In every lane, a story

Hangzhou's ancient lanes tell the story of its past — and its present.


Thoroughfares dotted with clothing stores and boutiques reflect a city’s modern side. To explore history and folklore, hidden lanes in old blocks offer a much better portrait of a city’s past.

Hangzhou has many lanes, most of which are low-profile narrow streets dominated by old residential buildings.

Early in 2000, Hangzhou government sensed the importance of such old lanes. It began a series of renovation projects to protect key sites, and dozens have been completed.

Many newly revamped lanes have become hangouts for hipsters and diners, as they house fashion brands, creative studios and popular restaurants.

The government has improved the lanes’ infrastructure, increasing green areas, protecting residences and rejuvenating relics.

Now, people entering the lanes are enchanted by the classic Hangzhou-style communities and their white walls and black roofs. Meanwhile, they provide new sites to develop the city’s cultural and creative industry as designers set up workshops there.

Local residents haven’t been forced out. On the contrary, they still enjoy the original leisure life without the pressures of fast-paced city life.

What’s more, many authentic Hangzhou-style snacks are only available there. Vendors put up roadside food stalls and cook on-site.

To native gastronomes, these snacks epitomize the city’s true delicacies, by virtue of the simplest food ingredients and cooking techniques.

To protect these antique lanes and their lifestyle, Hangzhou government is hosting the First Hangzhou Lane Cultural Season from August to September.

Organizers have designated 13 routes that contain more than 80 lanes. Visitors can follow these routes to discover the authentic Hangzhou style of life and culture.

The authorities have also organized photography, poem and essay competitions and an exhibition.

The highlight is the photography contest that welcomes amateur shutterbugs and professionals to capture the moment of lanes. The awarded photos would be displayed at the exhibition.

Like Shanghai’s longtang and Beijing’s hutong, Hangzhou’s lanes are expected to be the city’s new calling card. Shanghai Daily takes a look at the city’s noteworthy lanes and picks three featuring enriched culture and olden stories.

A statue of Southern Song Dynasty poet Lu You at the Memorial Hall of Lu You at Hai'er Lane

Hai’er Lane

孩儿巷

In ancient times, the lane was home to many shops selling clay figurines of children. Therefore, locals named it Hai’er, which means “children.”

The lane has long been associated with Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) poet Lu You (1125-1210), who started out as an official in Hangzhou to fulfill his aspirations for the reunification of China. Lu lived in the lane, and in return the lane saw the patriot’s sincere love for his country in a time of turbulence.

Today, Hai’er Lane houses the Memorial Hall of Lu You, which displays Lu’s statue, calligraphic works and collections of his writings. Visitors can follow his footsteps in Hangzhou through the exhibits on view.

The hall was a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) building based on Song Dynasty (960-1279) foundations, combined with Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) architectural elements.

The windows of the building were made of clamshells, which could only be seen in wealthy families’ houses in ancient times.

These were polished to be very thin, through which sunshine could penetrate, without being quite transparent.

Xiaoying Lane

Xiaoying Lane

小营巷

Xiaoying Lane is as a successful renovation of historical residences. Nearly 70 percent of the buildings on the lane are old dwellings, restored to their original appearance. In addition, a small park was carved out in the center of the block.

The community was also designated a pilot spot for garbage sorting. It has no trash bins as garbage collectors come at a fixed time every day. Residents have to sort garbage and throw it out when the collectors come. Now, the community’s garbage sorting rate has reached 80 percent. Its experience is expected to expand to other communities.

Qian Xuesen (1911-2009), a scientist who made important contributions to the missile and space programs of China, once lived in the lane, and his former residence is still retained.

Meanwhile, The Palace of the Ting Prince of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (1851-64), a rebel state in China, is also situated there. Architectures maintain original appearance characterized by up-turned eaves, carved beams and painted rafters. Today, it is a rest home for the elderly.

Twenty-three Lanes of Royal Street of the Southern Song Dynasty 

Twenty-three Lanes of Royal Street of the Southern Song Dynasty

南宋御街二十三弄

These criss-crossed lanes are centered around the ruins of a Southern Song Imperial Ancestral Temple. They are made up of 23 lanes, flanked by brick and wood structures of traditional Hangzhou residential housing built in the late Qing Dynasty and the early Republic of China (1912-1949).

As the political and academic area of the Southern Song Dynasty, they boast a rich cultural heritage, including the ruins of Three Councils and Six Ministries, the Imperial Ancestral Temple and the Ziyang Academy.

Over time, the once-elegant buildings fell into disrepair. In 2011, the government began renovations without relocating residents.

Now, these protected buildings are back to their traditional best, and residents are living in gleaming homes.




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