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Hangzhou History


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Hangzhou has a long history as mankind originally established a civilization over 4700 years ago. The historical milestone witnessing the remote history of Hangzhou is Liangzhu Prehistoric Ruins. Before the foundation of Song Empire, Hangzhou was the capital of Wuyue Kingdom, which was a southeast regional state of China founded by Qian Liu(钱镠). After the Incident of Jingkang(靖康之耻, also called the Humiliation of Jingkang took place in 1127 when invading Jurchen soldiers from the Jin Dynasty besieged and sacked Bianjing, today’s Kaifeng, the capital of the Song Dynasty of China. The Jin forces abducted Emperor Qinzong, his father Emperor Emeritus Huizong, along with many members of the imperial court.), Hangzhou was designated as the capital as the foundation of South Song Dynasty by Emperor Gaozong(宋高宗, whose name was Zhao Gou), since then, Hangzhou is historically known as one of five ancient capitals of China.

The Origin of Name - As early as four or five thousand years ago, approximately in the Neolithic age, Hangzhou was the settlement of early Chinese. Prior to West Zhou Dynasty (Century 11 B.C. – 771 B.C.), Emperor Da Yu(大禹) was said to arrive in Kuaiji, today’s Shaoxing city, to meet the regional lords after he conquered the great historical flood, and he left his boat and landed(boat, in ancient Chinese is also pronounced Hang,航, and due to the boat made of the wood, it is also written as 杭), therefore the landing site of Da Yu was named gradually to be Yu Hang(禹杭, the site of Da Yue leaving his boat). As the time goes, it was rewritten to be Yu Hang(余杭), which at present is the largest district of downtown Hangzhou.

The Pre-Qin History of Hangzhou - During the period of spring and autumn (770 -476 B.C.), Wu Kingdom and Yue Kingdom contended for hegemony. And they both bordered on the Qiantang River. After a long warfare, Hangzhou was occupied by Yue Kingdom after Wu Kingdom was defeated. In the period of Warring States, Yue Kingdom was exterminated by Chu State, a powerful state in the west of Yue and Wu Kingdoms, and Hangzhou was administrated by Chu State. In 222 B.C., Chu State was exterminated by Qin State. After the foundation of Qin Empire, Hangzhou an area of Qiantang County, and meanwhile, Yuhang County was established. Both of counties were administrated by Kuaiji Prefecture.

Story of Wo Xin Chang Dan - Before the foundation of Qin Empire, the most famous story in east China concerned with it history was Wo Xin Chang Dan(卧薪尝胆, sleep on the brushwood and taste the gall). Due to the failure in first Wu-Yue Battle, Wu Kingdom was entirely controlled by Wu Kingdom, and Gou Jian(勾践), the kind of Yue Kingdom suffered a lot and experienced much humiliation as a hostage and a servant in imperial palace of Wu. For satisfying King Fuchai(夫差), the son of King Helv(阖闾), who was the famous king in east China, he even tasted the excrement and urine of Fuchai to judge whether he was healthy or ill. Where he lived was a cowshed, and he hung a gall in the middle of the shed, and each day he got used to taste the gall to warn himself against forgetting re-establishing Yue Kingdom. For the flattery of officials like Bopi(伯嚭, who was an official hostile to Chu State due to a beauty)and the beauty trap designed by Gou Jian via presenting beauty Xi Shi(西施, one of most beautiful and elegant beauty in ancient history of China) in Yue Kingdom, Fuchai gradually lost his ambition and fell down to a luxurious life and became fatuous in state administration, even killed the most loyal officer Wu Zixu(伍子胥, who was an officer as well hostile to Chu State due to his elder brother and father both killed by king of Chu State, and the war between Wu and Chu was chiefly connected with him), and hung his body on the city gate. In the meantime, Gou Jian secretly scheduled his plan with his trusted subordinates like Fan Li(范蠡, who was said to be the husband of Xi Shi and the owner of Lvqi guqin) and Wen Zhong(文种, who was a quite smart official and finally killed by King Gou Jian after the re-foundation of Yue Kingdom. His soul together with the soul of Wu Zixu turned to be the huge tides of Qiantang River), and finally defeated Wu Kingdom, and King Fuchai committed suicide.

The Feudal History of Hangzhou – Qin Dynasty was too short to mention. In Han Dynasty(206B.C.-8A.D.), Hangzhou was administrated in Wu Kingdom, which was operated by Liu Bi(刘濞). After the Rebellion of the Seven States(七国之乱) in early Han Dynasty, Hangzhou was re-administrated in prefecture of Kuaiji. In the period of Three Kingdoms, Qiantang, also Hangzhou, under the administration of Wu Kingdom, and formally belonged to Yangzhou, one of nine prefectures of ancient China. During the ninth year of the reign of Emperor Wendi (589), Hangzhou firstly appeared in history as Tonglu County, Xincheng County, Haining, Yuhang and Fuyang were included in the administrative area. In the period of Tang Dynasty, in 621, the prefecture of Yuhang was changed to be Hangzhou. For avoiding being the same as the title of Tang, Qiantang county(钱唐县) was changed to be Qiantang county(钱塘县). In Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, Wuyue kingdom situated in southeast China centered on Hangzhou, at the time, Hangzhou was widely named Xifu or Xidu, translated literally as West Prefecture or West Capital. In North Song Dynasty, Hangzhou was the most populous prefecture in southeast China. In 1129, the reign of Emperor Gaozong in South Song Dynasty, Emperor Gaozong moved to Hangzhou from Yangzhou, and he took the prefecture as the temporary center of administration. Hangzhou was improved to be the Linan Prefecture. In the eight reign of Shaoxing, Hangzhou became the capital of South Song Dynasty. In 1276, the troops of Mongolia occupied Lingan, and under the administration of Yuan Dynasty, Hangzhou was improved to be a higher level in the system of administration. In 1366, Hangzhou was occupied by troops of Ming Dynasty.

Rebellion of the Seven States(七国之乱) - In the early years of the Han Dynasty, in order to strengthen his influence, Emperor Gaozu granted many virtually autonomous vassal states to his relatives and a few generals with military merits. Inevitably, over a period of time these vassal states grew powerful. However, when Liu Bang became the emperor, his wife got the power and only assigned those with her family name Lv to important posts. And it aroused great dissatisfaction among Liu's family members. The kingdoms that were in the hands of vassal-state rulers become a threat to the central government. During the reign of Jingdi, the minister Chao Cuo recommended to weaken the power of vassal-state rulers by eliminating their fiefdoms. And this action led to the Rebellion of the Seven Kingdoms. In 154BC, the ruler of the Wu State rose up and then other rulers in six states followed suit. It took three months for Emperor Jingdi to quell the rebellion. Later, Emperor Wudi continued to weaken the power of the vassal states by eliminating many fiefdoms, restoring central control over the prefectures and counties of the country.

The Republican History of Hangzhou – In 1912, the administration of Hangzhou was cancelled, and the original Qiantang county and Renhe county were attached to Hangzhou, and Hangzhou was designated to be the provincial capital of Zhejiang province. On December 24, 1938, Hangzhou was illegally occupied by Japanese invasion troops. On May 3, 1949, Hangzhou was under the control of Communist China, and was designated as the provincial capital. Since its liberation, Hangzhou got a tremendous change. Today’s Hangzhou is a famous tourist destination nationwide and a famous city for history and culture.

More Reading Extension - A Brief Chronology of Hangzhou & China

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Editor: Julius from Mildchina
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