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China's One and Only Lake World Cultural Heritage Site
Chai Yanfei, Wang Yifei, Zhang Yuhuan
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China's One and Only Lake World Cultural Heritage Site

Hangzhou’s West Lake was added to the UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2011. It was China’s first successfully declared cultural landscape. One of the few lakes included in the list of recognised world cultural heritage sites. It fills the gap of lake heritage by offering its prominent "culture" as the main value, and is a key addition to this type of world heritage.


Guoping Wang (former Secretary of the Party Leadership Group of Hangzhou Municipal Government) provided comprehensive and detailed responses regarding the unique story of the West Lake’s application to be listed as a World Heritage Site. He explained how the West Lake promotes exchange and mutual learning between China and the West. Wang is a former member of the Standing Committee of the Zhejiang Provincial Party Committee and former Secretary of the Party Leadership Group of Hangzhou Municipal Government. He is currently the chairman of the Hangzhou Urban Science Research Council, the Director and chief expert of the Zhejiang Provincial Urban Governance Research Center, one of the first major think tanks in Zhejiang, and the Director of the Expert Advisory Committee for the Construction of the National Cultural Park.


Among the 56 World Heritage Sites included in the World Heritage List in China, the West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou is the only lake heritage site in China and it is also one of the few lakes listed as a cultural heritage site in the World Heritage List. Why the West Lake?


China's West Lake has been awarded this honour as it is not only a natural lake but also a humanistic lake. In simple terms, it is a beautiful landscape with a long history. It is a unique natural and cultural treasure. Since the Song Dynasty, approximately 1,400 years ago, the West Lake has been an outstanding example of a cultural landscape that clearly displays the ideals of Chinese landscape aesthetics as expounded by writers and scholars. More than 20 million words have been written about the West Lake across numerous literary works. The West Lake also has a glorious celebrity culture. It is the hometown of numerous celebrities and there are also many cultural archaeological remains of ancient Chinese emperors. The architectural shapes, lines, colours and landscapes of West Lake contrast and echo together with the connotative beauty endowed by writers and scholars, making it a "living" museum that showcases oriental traditional culture. For thousands of years, the West Lake has influenced both Chinese civilisation and international art and literature. For example, in the 9th century, the beauty of West Lake spread to Japan through Chinese poetry, which had a significant impact on Japanese art and literature. 


The West has many cultural heritage sites known for their cultural charm, such as the Italian city of Verona where the love story of Romeo and Juliet was born. What are the commonalities and characteristics of the West Lake and cultural sites in the West?


From the perspective of protection and inheritance, the West Lake and some Western heritage sites have a perfect and unique combination of nature and culture, focusing on both the relationship between protection and utilisation and protecting cultural heritage amidst a rapid urbanisation. These heritage sites prioritise protection and ecology and focus on how to maintain what they have now, insisting on overall planning and step-by-step implementation.


Compared with numerous other cultural heritage sites, China has made increasing efforts to protect the West Lake by respecting and restoring history. For example, to protect the extremely rich natural and cultural landscape of the West Lake, Hangzhou repaired 180 natural and cultural landscapes in line with the principles of authenticity, completeness, and identifiability advocated by the Venice Charter. To collect information concerning the West Lake, the West Lake Research Institute and the West Lake Research Association were established in Hangzhou to collect West Lake literature from around the world, forming a 31-million-word West Lake Complete Book, indicating the significant cultural value of the West Lake cultural landscape.


It has been many years since Hangzhou initiated the West Lake World Heritage application in 1999. In your opinion, what value does the West Lake have for the promotion of global cultural heritage protection?


First, to adhere to the "six won’t" promises. After the successful application of the West Lake, Hangzhou made the "six won’t" promises: the goal of protection won’t change, the entrance fee won’t increase, museum entry won’t be charged, the land won’t be sold, the cultural relics won’t be destroyed, and the public resources won’t be embezzled. The second is to insist on “giving the lake, the mountains, and the scenery back to the people”. The West Lake will always be a public resource. In 2002, Hangzhou adhered to the concept of “giving the lake back to the people” and invited tourists to visit West Lake free of charge. Since the beginning of the new century, Hangzhou has established the West Lake Studies Research Association, built the West Lake Museum, and compiled The Complete Book of West Lake. It has integrated all aspects of society and played an important role in the protection and promotion of West Lake culture.


In the current era when China proposes “Working to Build a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind”, Eastern and Western cultures need to learn from each other. How do you think the West Lake will contribute in this regard?


In the protection of cultural civilisation, the success of the West Lake protection model can provide a practical reference for world heritage protection. West Lake Conservation proposes a new model of world heritage conservation management featuring the mutual benefits of "protection and development" and win-win for "governments and people". In the process, it invites international experts to join the West Lake protection team. Concerning the expansion of communication channels, the utilisation model of the West Lake can also promote mutual learning between China and the West. For example, the West Lake Expo, which was first held in 1929, is now held annually. While providing new opportunities, advantages and impetus for Hangzhou to promote the internationalisation of the city, it has become an important platform for strengthening the relationships between China and foreign countries. 


When you successfully applied for the heritage status of West Lake, you stated that one of the purposes of the application was to "let the West Lake live for another 2,000 years". What areas should we continue to work on to achieve this?


First, it is necessary to further improve the protection of the West Lake. In the future management of the West Lake, we must continue to make changes while still insisting on active protection. We can achieve protection through appropriate utilisation and by maintaining the historical landscape of the city so that the West Lake can find an optimal balance between protection and utilisation. Second, scientific management must be conducted. In the future management of the West Lake, we should also focus on "diverting tourists" rather than "restricting tourists". The height of the buildings surrounding the lake must be strictly regulated. Third, we must consider the restoration of both natural and human ecology. Under the premise of prioritisation of the social benefit, we must fully explore the commercial value of cultural products and encourage more individuals, enterprises and social organisations to set up relevant cultural operation enterprises to enhance the creative vitality of cultural resources.

Chai Yanfei, Wang Yifei, Zhang YuhuanDarcy Littler

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