Xi Story: Preserving the beauty of West Lake

May 26 15:26 2022

Architecture is frozen music. With white walls, black tiles, and a slanting roof, an art museum was built at the foot of the lush Yuhuang Mountain, stretching out toward the iconic West Lake in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province in east China.

The elegant Zhejiang Art Museum building seems to blend perfectly into its surroundings of lucid waters and green mountains. Today, it is one of China’s major art museums.

According to Yang Jianxin, former head of Zhejiang’s provincial cultural department, the beauty of the surrounding environment might not have become what it is today if not for President Xi Jinping.

Xi served as the Party chief of Zhejiang from 2002 to 2007. It was he who set the tone of the museum’s construction and underscored that it should complement its surroundings.

Indeed, on his first inspection tour of Hangzhou in 2002, he visited the West Lake. Earlier that year, work had begun on a preservation project to protect the lake. During that inspection, Xi’s focus was on how to continue the initiative. This attention did not wane with the years, and Xi has kept an eye on related projects from that day on.

On the eve of the Lunar New Year in early 2003, Xi braved the cold weather and rain and revisited the West Lake. After listening to reports and reviewing plans for the museum, he decided that it should be built beside the West Lake. Yang recalled that Xi stressed that the design must be “instantly recognizable as a Chinese architecture.”

The West Lake has an almost mystical appeal to many Chinese as it has inspired a bounty of literary works and legends. One poem by Su Shi, a prominent 11th-century literary figure, likens the lake to a woman from the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), famed for her beauty: “The West Lake looks like the fair lady at her best; whether she is richly adorned or plainly dressed.”

When explaining how the natural elements of the lake and adjacent construction projects could interface in harmony, Xi emphasized that the elegance of the West Lake should always rest with its natural characteristics. He said buildings near the lake should be like the “maidservants” of the lake and be designed to serve the lake with a relatively “plain dress.”

Thanks to Xi’s support and instructions, more than 180 cultural sites were renovated, and the western section of the lake was restored to what it looked like in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

In 2011, the West Lake was included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

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