West Lake (Chinese: 西湖; pinyin: Xī Hú; Wu: Si-wu) is a freshwater lake in Hangzhou, China. It is divided into five sections by three causeways. There are numerous temples, pagodas, gardens, and natural/artificial islands within the lake. Gushan is the largest natural island and three artificial islands: Xiaoyingzhou , Huixin Pavilion, and Ruan Gongdun stand at the middle of the lake. Leifeng Pagoda and Baochu Pagoda are separated by the lake. Mirroring each other, the basic pattern of "one mountain, two towers, three islands, three banks, and five lakes" is formed.
West Lake has influenced poets and painters throughout Chinese history for its natural beauty and historic relics, and it has also been among the most important sources of inspiration for Chinese garden designers.It was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, described as having "influenced garden design in the rest of China as well as Japan and Korea over the centuries" and reflecting "an idealized fusion between humans and nature".
The earliest recorded name for West Lake was the "Wu Forest River" (Wǔlín Shuǐ). The Book of Han's "Geography Column" says, "Qiantang, affiliated to the western governor general. Wu Forest Mountain (Wǔlínshān) is the origin of the Wu Forest River. Running east into the sea, it covers 830 li" (roughly, 350 km or 220 mi). Other former names include the "Qian River", "Qiantang Lake", "Mingsheng Lake", "Jinniu Lake", "Shihan Lake", "Shang Lake", "Lianyan Lake", "Fangsheng Pond", "Xizi Lake", "Gaoshi Lake", "Xiling Lake", "Meiren Lake", "Xianzhe Lake", and "Mingyue Lake". But only two names were widely accepted in history and recorded in historical documents. One is "Qiantang Lake", due to the fact that Hangzhou was called "Qiantang" in ancient times. The other name is "West Lake", due to the lake being west of the city. The name "West Lake" first appeared in two poems of Bai Juyi, "Bestowed on guests as returning from West Lake in the evening and looking back to Gushan Temple" and "On the returning boat to Hangzhou" . Since the Northern Song dynasty, most poems and articles of scholars used the name "West Lake", while the name "Qiantang Lake" was gradually deprecated. "The request of dredging West Lake" written by Su Shi was the first time that "West Lake" appeared in an official document.
West Lake is said to be the incarnation of Xi Shi, one of the Four Beauties of ancient China. Since ancient times, West Lake was associated with a large number of romantic poets, profound philosophers, national heroes and heroines. West Lake was also the retreat for many Chinese writers of the past. The Northern Song Dynasty poet Lin Bu, shunning the life of being an official, lived in seclusion by West Lake for twenty years, and dedicated himself to the cultivation of peach and plum blossoms.The great Ming dynasty essayist Zhang Dai, wrote a number of essays about West Lake in Reminiscence and Dream of Tao'an, and a whole book: Search for West Lake in Dreams. West Lake has had a profound impact on Far Eastern landscape designs,and its features have often been imitated by other palaces and gardens, such as Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace in Beijing, the central ponds of the Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden and Koishikawa Kōrakuen Garden in Tokyo, Japan, among others.