Scenic Beauty outside the City: Tourism around Hangzhou's West Lake in the Southern Song (1127-1276)
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This dissertation examines the development of tourism around West Lake during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and its impact on urban space, popular religion, and visual culture. It aims to join the conversation about the Chinese medieval urban revolution and contribute to the discussion of tourism in pre-modern contexts. Tourism is a key cultural practice that involves temporary physical movement and mental escape from normal daily life. Scholars in diverse disciplines have shown tourism's powerful role in shaping and reflecting the creation of identity, the accumulation of knowledge, and the consumption of visual and material culture. West Lake became the premier tourist site outside Hangzhou when it was the capital of the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1276), and the lake has remained a cultural landmark ever since. Situated just outside the city wall, West Lake attracted the imperial family, literati, painters, merchants, and ordinary people with its beautiful scenery and rich cultural traditions. Literature about touring around the lake--from elegant poems written by literati while boating to amusing anecdotes about uncanny experiences of tourists--reveal layers of meanings attached to the lake. The lakeshore was crowded with shops, restaurants, and peddlers, possible because the government was lax in its regulation of commercial activities outside the city walls. Temples that dotted the hills around the lake attracted pilgrims and tourists alike, especially during annual festivals. The Ten Views of West Lake became a popular subject for poets and painters, whose works show their emotional attachment to nature and continue to shape the gaze of tourists to the present. This dissertation examines how West Lake became a popular tourist site in the Southern Song, documenting the emergence of a wide range of services offered to sightseers, including food and drink, boat rental, and souvenir shopping. A second goal of the dissertation is to explore the complexity of West Lake as an interactive space where political ideals, economic concerns, spiritual pursuits, and cultural desires came into contact. Asking how a tourist center functioned forces one to consider space, place, and landscape as interrelated. Mass-tourism at West Lake was a multi-faceted phenomenon. It brought people into contact with nature and shaped the ways they conceptualized the natural landscape. Socially, the lake served as a watering hole of sorts, bringing different classes of people together. Tourism at the lake acted as a bridge and intermediary between elite and popular culture, as well as sacred and secular experiences. The features of tourism that were established during the Southern Song were appropriated by tourists in later periods in their own pursuits of local fame, security, social relationships, cultural capital, and commercial profit.
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