Hangzhou is truly beautiful, with an appeal that comes from both its scenery and its culture.
On its journey to advance the Beautiful China Initiative, Hangzhou has maintained a beautiful natural environment, as well as idyllic living and working conditions, earning numerous accolades over the years: it became the first provincial capital to earn
the title of National Eco-City in 2016, the first sub provincial-level municipality to earn the title of National Ecological Garden City in 2017, a Culturally Advanced City in 2011, and the tenth Chinese city to join the trillion-yuan GDP club in 2015, and it has ranked among China’s happiest cities for 14 consecutive years.
In Hangzhou, work and life have continuously become better, allowing the city to set a shining example for advancement of the Beautiful China Initiative.
Nineteen years in the pursuit of becoming beauty
Visiting the rural and urban areas of Hangzhou is like peering into a colorful kaleidoscope.
In the town of Louta in the city’s Xiaoshan District, old buildings dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties that were once in ruins and came close to being demolished are now treasured. Since being restored, they have become a haven for artists from the Chinese Academy of Art, who have painstakingly transformed them into simple yet elegant studios. Walking along the wide and well-maintained roads, one unconsciously encounters inventive design elements everywhere they go. The creations of these artists leave people so enamored that it is hard for them to tear themselves away.
In Gongshu District, a thermoelectric power plant that once belched out thick smoke has been turned into a public square, while the smokestack has been transformed into a veritable cultural landmark. The square is an industrial remnant that recalls the city’s development decades ago, and has become a leisure space for residents of the surrounding area.
In Houzhu Village in Lin’an District, a late-night snack street was built after environmental remediation efforts were complete, while the bamboo shoot market has picked up again. In the past, local residents could rent out houses for only about 3,000 yuan per year, but they are now in hot demand for tens of thousands per year.
The Hangzhou of today is thriving in terms of the environment, industry, living standards, cultural development, and social order.
Nineteen years ago, however, the villages and towns in the suburbs of this municipality looked completely different. Though there were newly-built individual residential houses, the villages themselves had not been revamped. The interiors of houses could be modern, but they nonetheless appeared dirty, disorderly, and dilapidated from the outside. Garbage was piled up, and dirty water ran everywhere. Though Hangzhou had been leading the pack in economic development for many years, this position brought with it the struggles of environmental pollution, and all sorts of problems resulting from the fact that efforts to improve the rural environment were lagging behind.
In December 2002, Xi Jinping, then Secretary of Zhejiang Provincial CPC Committee, conducted an in-depth analysis of the province’s existing strengths and great potentials in ecological development. On this basis, he made it clear that the province needed to take advantage of environmental improvement initiatives to build a “Green Zhejiang,” and to work hard to achieve development that balanced the economy and society as well as population, resources, and the environment. The year 2002 also became the inaugural year of the Beautiful Hangzhou Initiative, which gave the city a leg up and a fresh start.
Rural areas are the key challenge and the main battleground in efforts to build a beautiful Hangzhou. In June 2006, under Xi Jinping’s personal planning and support, Zhejiang launched the Green Rural Revival Program, which focused on improving work, life, and the environment in rural areas. This program became a key initiative in the province-wide drive to build an ecological civilization, and Hangzhou took the lead in pushing it forward. In July of that same year, an overall outline called the “Eight-Eight Strategy” was drafted for steering Zhejiang’s development, proposing that future development should further leverage eight of the province’s main strengths and advance measures in eight areas. As this strategy was put into practice, the aspiration to build a beautiful Hangzhou gradually took shape, and the strategic blueprint for this purpose became increasingly well defined.
With reform, opening up, and modernization pushing deeper, the question of how to balance economic development with environmental protection became a major issue for China’s continued development. Since Zhejiang was at the forefront of reform and opening up and soaring ahead economically, it felt the pressure of this issue earlier on.
In August 2005, Xi Jinping introduced the concept that “lucid waters and lush mountains are as valuable as mountains of gold and silver” for the first time during a visit to Yucun Village in Anji County, Zhejiang Province. This elucidated the complementary relationship between environmental protection and economic development, helped officials clear up their confused perspectives and firm up their confidence and determination with regard to ecological development, provided a much needed breakthrough for Zhejiang and Hangzhou, and charted a course of development on which beauty and development were each indispensible.
In August 2006, Xi Jinping stressed that Zhejiang needed to promote coordinated development by working hard to coordinate regional development and improve the layout of urban space. He also highlighted the importance of continuing to pursue a new type of urbanization and optimize urban systems, as well as paying attention to coordinated development between larger cities and smaller cities. In the process of grasping these guiding principles, the authorities in Hangzhou gradually came to the realization that they could only set the board for the Beautiful Hangzhou Initiative if both the urban and rural pieces were in place. Addressing the problem of imbalance between the development of urban and rural areas was the crux of ecological improvement efforts.
With this in mind, Hangzhou explored a whole raft of new measures and approaches for urban-rural integration. In 2010, it fully implemented its strategy for coordinating the development of urban and rural areas and launched mechanisms for cooperation between districts and county-level divisions, bringing about a historic step forward in urban-rural coordination. Seven urban districts and five county-level divisions split into five groups, carrying out comprehensive cooperation regarding industry, resources, and officials. Hangzhou also set up a special coordination fund, with 1 billion yuan allocated annually to support the five county-level divisions. Meanwhile, each urban district also put together designated funds with no less than 30 million yuan allocated annually for cooperation between districts and county-level divisions. This mechanism has now functioned uninterrupted for 11 years. As a result, a pattern of helping each other in the spirit of fraternity has continued to take shape and coordinated urban-rural development has gathered momentum across the board, creating favorable foundations for the full upgrading of the city’s rural areas into picturesque attractions. Beautiful country scenes of vast green fields dotted with new and neatly arranged houses have become the norm across the area, and the Beautiful Hangzhou Initiative has helped address imbalances in urban-rural development.
In 2013, after hearing a report on work in Hangzhou, Xi Jinping said that the municipality should take more concrete steps toward ecological development, and make itself a model for the Beautiful China Initiative. During the G20 Hangzhou summit in 2016, he again expressed his hopes regarding ecological development in Hangzhou. Between March 29 and April 1, 2020, Xi Jinping again toured Zhejiang and Hangzhou. His first stop on the tour was the Xixi National Wetland Park, the first national wetland park in China. After visiting the lush and verdant park, Xi put forward even higher requirements with regard to protecting our natural assets, stressing that conservation must remain the top priority and that the greatest possible effort should be devoted to protecting the wetland ecosystem and water environment. He said that properly protecting the West Lake and the Xixi Wetland should be a prominent objective of urban development and governance in Hangzhou, that the spatial layout should be balanced appropriately for working, living, and protecting the environment, and that Hangzhou should generate more experience on building livable cities in which there is harmony between humans and nature and both are able to thrive together.
As a model of ecological development, the Xixi Wetland has vividly reflected the concept that lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets over 16 years of conservation efforts. Today, rivers, ponds, lakes, swamps, and other bodies of water cover approximately 68% of the wetland, while water quality has also risen from a very poor Grade V rating at the time of the park’s opening to an overall rating of Grade III or above and a stable rating of Grade II or above in core areas. Furthermore, five major ecological conservation and restoration zones have been set up, including Xialong Shoal and Chaotianmu Lake. This has brought together uniquely beautiful wetland scenery, and pioneered a win-win model for the protection and utilization of China’s wetlands.
The incremental changes at the beginning and now the tremendous transformation that Hangzhou has witnessed in becoming more beautiful are owed to the guidance of the concept that lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets, as well as to the city’s persistence in following through with its blueprint to the end.
Holding on to precious natural assets
Hangzhou is a city set among three misty mountains, with half of it dominated by lake and the other half covered in green. A beautiful environment is therefore the canvas for a beautiful Hangzhou.
In September 2003, Xi Jinping, then in his capacity as Secretary of the Zhejiang Provincial CPC Committee, put forward specific requirements for conservation of the West Lake. He said, “The beauty of the West Lake lies in the water, in the surrounding mountains, and in the perfectly subtle balance of the natural environment. The provincial CPC committee and government have proposed that Zhejiang be developed into an eco-province, and the city of Hangzhou has also set the goal and strategy of environmentally focused development. This approach must first and foremost be reflected in the protection of the West Lake. If the lake is ruined, environmentally focused development will be out of the question.”
In an effort to make the pearl of the West Lake once again shine bright, Hangzhou has launched comprehensive conservation and remediation initiatives in areas including ecological protection, environmental improvement, preserving culture, and restoring the scenery. The focal point of urban development has shifted from the West Lake to the Qiantang River, presenting a major opportunity for the all-round protection and remediation of the lake.
Through many years of continuous effort, the West Lake ecosystem has seen significant improvement in terms of its stability and biodiversity. Lake water transparency has increased from a previous visible depth of approximately 40cm to more than 80cm, water quality has reached Grade III standards, and the scenery is now stunning.
In order to further coordinate ecological protection efforts for the West Lake and the Xixi Wetland and generate more experience on building livable cities in which there is harmony between humans and nature and both are able to thrive together, Hangzhou held a conference on October 29, 2020 with the theme of upgrading and advancing integrated efforts to protect the two ecosystems.
The West Lake and the Xixi Wetland are just two of many emblems of Hangzhou’s beauty.
In September 29, 2019, the Qiandao Lake water supply project officially came into operation at Hangzhou’s Chun’an County, providing clean water to the residents of Hangzhou. On the day of the launch, the establishment of the Chun’an special ecological function zone was also announced. This move was aimed at further exploring mechanisms for Zhejiang and Anhui provinces to jointly protect Qiandao Lake and the Xin’an River, opening up new avenues for turning natural assets into profitable assets, facilitating the provision of high-quality public services and resources for ensuring public wellbeing within the special ecological function zone, raising the quality of rural living environments, and helping members of the public share in the dividends of environmentally-friendly development.
Thanks to its pioneering endeavors with a whole raft of ecological conservation mechanisms, Chun’an County was recognized as a national innovator for putting the concept that lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets into practice in October 2020, further consolidating the county’s eco-friendly foundations.
But while targeted efforts are important, it is even more crucial to focus on the big picture. The effects of the city-wide campaign to address problems related to water, air, and waste show that the Beautiful Hangzhou Initiative has transformed the entire city in tremendous ways. With a focus on water, Hangzhou launched a series of programs and campaigns to combat water pollution, drain saturated areas, prevent floods, safeguard the water supply, and promote water-saving habits. In doing so, it comprehensively addressed water-related problems inhibiting the city’s development. The blackened bodies of water that once assailed the nostrils with their unpleasant odor disappeared, replaced by picturesque rivers with clear waters and green banks that flow free of any blockages. Meanwhile, in its efforts to combat air pollution, Hangzhou put focus on coal smoke, industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust, urban dust, and cooking fumes, gradually bringing about a new pattern in which multiple types of atmospheric pollutants are controlled in an integrated manner and different areas of the city tackle this issue through joint measures. Lastly, in an effort to keep waste from piling up around the city, Hangzhou launched a determined campaign to address five categories of waste, namely household waste, sewage, construction waste, hazardous waste, and recycled waste, with the focus on garbage sorting.
Set among lucid waters and lush mountains, Hangzhou is a forerunner of the Beautiful China Initiative, and has become the type of idyllic place that people admire and hope to emulate in the new era.
Building “mountains of gold and silver”
If the lucid waters and lush mountains are protected, the “mountains of gold and silver” will come naturally.
Along the banks of the surging Qiantang River stands the Hangzhou International Conference Center, a striking golden colored, sphere-shaped building. Due to its extremely recognizable façade, locals and visitors alike know it as the “big gold ball.” Every time a major event is held, guests from all corners gather here. The building has thus become a landmark symbolizing Hangzhou’s modernization and its international look.
Qianjiang New City, the area where the “big gold ball” is located, is Hangzhou’s thriving central business district. The times have certainly changed. Nineteen years ago, this area, which is now referred to as the Hangzhou’s equivalent of the Shanghai Bund, was just an empty strip of land. Only a few local villagers grew vegetables in the area, while almost nobody lived there. Over the last 19 years, as Hangzhou has developed along, across, and around the Qiantang River, the city has made protecting, preserving, and harnessing the river its guiding principle, illustrating the river’s central place in the portrait of the city, and laying the framework for the future of a new urban center. In the process, it has developed a world-class waterfront with brilliant and unique appeal, and shown the rest of China and the world that Hangzhou embraces its mother river.
In building up Hangzhou’s “mountains of gold and silver,” it is not just the urban areas that are important, but also the rural ones.
In Xiajiang Village, there were once more than 150 open-air toilets, and every household raised pigs that roamed around freely. The entire village was filled with a strong stench, and there were flies and sewage everywhere. Under the care and guidance of Xi Jinping who came here several times during 2003 and 2007, the village built biogas digesters providing methane to each household. Today, sewage from toilets and pigpens is pumped directly into the digesters. Not only is the village cleaner, its energy needs have been addressed, and surrounding forests have been effectively protected.
Xiajiang Village has become famous far and wide on the Internet, and its experience and approaches in industrial transformation and upgrading have started radiating outward and spurring the development of nearby areas. Under the timely guidance and support of Hangzhou and Chun’an County, a campaign to cultivate and expand four types of environmentally-friendly industries, namely employee training, rural tourism, agroforestry, and creative industries, has been launched, with Xiajiang Village included in a core area covering 28 administrative villages in the town of Fengshuling and four administrative villages in the town of Dashu. This has helped build a Xiajiang that enjoys both a beautiful environment and thriving industry.
In the process of economic transformation, Hangzhou has continuously explored its path forward. Though there have been setbacks and rough patches, it has never faltered, and its determination has never wavered. The old can make way for the new. Behind the scenes of Hangzhou’s transition from old to new drivers of growth has been the wisdom and courage to wipe the slate clean and start again.
In 2020, Hangzhou’s economy continued to see steady improvement despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Value-added of the primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors reached 32.6 billion yuan, 482.1 billion yuan, and 1.1 trillion yuan, respectively, with a ratio of 2.0 : 29.9 : 68.1. More specifically, core industries in the digital economy saw a growth of 13.3%, high-tech industries, 8.6%, and equipment manufacturing, 11.8%, while new drivers and dynamism have blossomed more rapidly.
Chasing the dream of a better life
The purpose of efforts to build a beautiful Hangzhou is ultimately to make the lives of the people better.
At a rice cake shop in Waitongwu Village, there is a rhyme written on the wall that proclaims all the supposed benefits of eating rice cakes, saying that they can help you grow taller, be more successful, earn more money, and get better grades. It ends by expressing the shop’s hope that customers keep getting better, year after year. This simple and nostalgic rural rhyme is the perfect backdrop to a village that is changing with each passing day.
Some people say that a city with charm is one that makes you feel like visiting when you haven’t been there yet, and like you don’t want to leave once you are there. Hangzhou is precisely this kind of city.
On the banks of the Grand Canal in a modest house that has been renovated into a museum for Kunqu Opera, professional performers from the Zhejiang provincial troupe sing a gentle tune, putting the beauty of Hangzhou’s culture on display. Meanwhile, the water gurgles along the canal, which has not only carried incalculable wealth in its history, but also nourished a brilliant culture. These lingering sounds transcend the passage of thousands of years, and recall the tale of this flourishing city.
The Grand Canal itself is like an open-air museum. Today, the area around Gongchen Bridge at the southern end of the Grand Canal has become a nationally renowned museum district, which hosts the Grand Canal Museum, the China Knives, Scissors, and Swords Museum, the China Umbrella Museum, the China Fan Museum, and the Hangzhou Arts and Crafts Museum. Local residents wander around the area like they are sampling their way through a feast of Chinese culture.
The culture that permeates this city has universally benefitted the people in tangible ways, and been translated into a type of behavioral awareness based upon cultural self-confidence. The ancient houses in the historical districts of Qiaoxi, Xiaohe Alley, and Dadou Road represent how people used to live along the canal; cultural attractions like the Fuyicang Heritage Park, Laokaixin Teahouse, Sword & Porcelain Gallery and Gongchen Academy demonstrate the limitless possibilities for passing on living culture; while much loved local events held along the canal such as activities for the new year and the lantern festival, temple fairs, and dragon boat races bring the area to life all year round.
While better lives can come from carrying on the old, they also come from bringing on the new.
Just steps away from the beautiful scenery of the West Lake is a pedestrian road called the Hubin Walking Street. Strolling down the street, one can see the gorgeous beauty of the West Lake on one side, and vendors employing modern technology on the other. It is the perfect intermarriage of past and present that blends together fashion, smart technology, and culture, and it brings great enjoyment to locals and tourists alike. With a focus on live-streaming, developing nighttime consumption, and opening up stores of well-known brands, the area has made continuous efforts to upgrade business models and promote its image. Long-established brands have taken on new life, while new shops can be seen everywhere one looks, and numerous local business have become must-see stops. The entire area has been put onto a smart management platform that covers functions such as local administration, smart transportation, and smart commerce. On the big monitoring screen at the control office, one can see constantly refreshing data on foot and vehicle traffic at a glance.
When crossing the street in the city center, one doesn’t have to worry about cars cutting across, because drivers in Hangzhou will stop and give you the right of way. When riding a bicycle, one doesn’t have to worry about motorbikes hogging the road, because Hangzhou has dedicated bicycle lanes. At intersections, there are shelters to protect you from the sun or the rain where you can take a few minutes to stop and fix your wet hair. Along the bustling streets, Hangzhou has set up more than 200 city management stations that are open 24 hours a day where sanitation workers, traffic police officers, and garbage collectors can take a rest.
There is a tangible atmosphere of civility in Hangzhou that is highly advanced and carries with it a strong sense of caring for others. In Zhongyuan Village in Fuyang District, a local resident named Huang Xiaorong was walking along the riverbank when he noticed that a small girl had fallen into the water, and without hesitating, he jumped down from the 5-meter-high embankment to rescue her. He was later praised for his exemplary paternal instincts. This is testament to the fact that the most beautiful thing about Hangzhou is no longer its stunning scenery, but rather the commendable character of its people, and this is a trend that is spreading nationwide. According to statistics, in recent years Hangzhou has produced a great many role models exhibiting exemplary moral character, including seven that received commendation at the national level, 17 at the provincial level, and more than 160 at the municipal level, while more than 25,000 people from various sectors have been recognized as outstanding citizens of Hangzhou.
Hangzhou is truly beautiful, with beauty that comes from its ingenuity and its soul.