CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 28, December 2011


The Sights of West Lake | China Heritage Quarterly

The Sights of West Lake: a Kind of Neurosis
Geremie R. Barmé

Lu Xun's 'Ten Sight Disease' 十景病

On 1:00pm, 25 September 1924, Thunder Peak Pagoda collapsed, taking with it one of the Ten Scenes of West Lake. Shortly thereafter the writer Lu Xun (鲁迅, penname of Zhou Shuren 周樹人, 1881-1936) published two highly influential essays on the subject. In the second of these, dated 6 February 1925, he lambasted what he calls the 'ten-sight disease' (shi jing bing 十景病), an expression he uses to characterize a particularly sclerotic Chinese approach to the world

Many of us in China—here I want to make it quite clear that I don not include all our four hundred million compatriots—have a sort of 'ten-sight disease' or at least an 'eight-sight disease', which reached epidemic proportions in the Qing dynasty, I should say. Look through any county annals, and you will find the district has ten sights, if not eight, such as 'Moonlight on a Distant Village', 'Quiet Monastery and Clear Bell', 'Ancient Pool and Crystal Water'. And this '十' shaped germ seems to have got into the blood and spread throughout the body, no less virulent than the '!' shaped germs which herald a country's decline. There are ten sorts of sweatmeats, ten different dishes, ten movements in music, ten courts for the king of hell, ten cures in medicine, ten guesses for the drinking game; even announcements of guilty deeds or crimes usually list ten item, as if no one would stop at nine. Now one of the ten sights of the West Lake is missing. 'All rulers have nine rules of government.' There have been nine rules since ancient times, but there have seldom been nine sights; so this should cause the sufferers from this disease a salutary pang, and at least make them feel times have changed, since one-tenth of their cherished malady has suddenly disappeared.

But I still feel sad at heart.

The fact is, this type of inevitable destruction serves no purpose. To delight in it is pointless self-deception. The cultured élite, the devout and the traditionalists with their glib tongues will try by hook and by crook to make up the ten sights again, and will not rest content till they have done so.

…If times are prosperous, and the ten-sight disease is rife, I suppose a new Leifeng Pagoda may be built. But its fate is easy to guess if the country folk remain the same and the old ways remain unchanged.[1]

我們中國的許多人,——我在此特別整重聲明:並不包括四萬萬同胞全部!——大抵患有一種'十景病',至少是'八景病',沈重起來的時候大概在清朝。凡看一部縣誌,這一縣往往有十景或八景,如'遠村明月'、'蕭寺清鐘'、'古池好水'之類。而且,'十'字形的病菌,似乎已經侵入血管,流布全身,其勢力早不在 '!'形驚嘆亡國病菌之下了。點心有十樣錦,菜有十碗,音樂有十番,閻羅有十殿,藥有十全大補,猜拳有全福手福手全,連人的劣跡或罪狀,宣佈起來也大抵是十條,彷彿犯了九條的時候總不肯歇手。現在西湖十景可缺了呵!'凡為天下國家有九經',九經固古已有之,而九景卻頗不習見,所以正是對於十景病的一個針砭,至少也可以使患者感到一種不平常,知道自己的可愛的老病,忽而跑掉了十分之一了。




Yu Qiuyu's Lament

Lu Xun was thus no fan of West Lake. Indeed he cautioned his friend the writer Yu Dafu against moving there with his family in no uncertain terms, declaring that the Lake 'undermined a person's sense of purpose'. The modern writer Yu Qiuyu 余秋雨 sums this up in his essay on West Lake and quotes Lu Xun's poem to Yu. In the Editorial to this issue we quoted Yu to the effect that:

There is a great centrifugal attraction among literate Chinese in a West Lake that is rich in symbolism and abstraction. There is an imperceptible evacuation of social memory; in its place what remains are the 'solitary pride' and 'vacuous reputations' of talented scholars and hermits buried in the charming hills and waters. Genius and frustration of grand proportions are reduced to become scenic sights for casual visitors. Sights and more sights; always sights.


Yu's lament echoes that of Lu Xun: 'Sights and more sights; always sights' (景點,景點,總是景點). Yu goes on to say:








Thunder Peak Pagoda, Leifeng Ta, was rebuilt in 2004. As we have noted in our Chronology of Hangzhou and West Lake, a few years later a new set of Ten New Scenes of West Lake was announced. This was the second series of new scenes in a little over twenty years. While ever new 'decalogues' may be announced in the future, we not here that the codification of the landscape of West Lake has been underway for over a millennium.

四字景目: Four Character Clichés

Indeed, the codification and enumeration of books, ideas, people, policies, buildings, landscapes and other sundry numerated lists has a long history in the Chinese tradition. On a recent visit to the West Lake Museum in Hangzhou (September 2010), we noted that the 'four-character descriptions' of Hangzhou's now-iconic 'Ten Scenes' are now termed sizi jingmu 四字景目, the neurosis of which Lu Xun complained has gone metastatic.

The Song

As we have noted elsewhere, the literary and pictorial dividing of West Lake up into viewing points and scenic spots began long before the Qing dynasty. However it is argued there were no ten scenes in the Southern Song as such. What would become in later eras the Ten Scenes of West Lake were taken from, or inspired by, the titles of paintings made during the Southern Song, predominantly by court artists. Zhang Dai is famed for his poems to the Ten Scenes based on poetic conceits of the Song period, to which were added a number of others (these are: 冷泉猿嘯、韜光觀海、天竺香市、西溪探海、蕉石鳴琴、鳳嶺松濤、靈石樵歌、九里雲松). As Liping Wang points out it was in 1699, during the Kangxi reign of the Qing dynasty, that what are still the main Ten Scenes of West Lake were determined.

The Qing

In 1722, the governor of Zhejiang, Li Wei (李衛, 1687-1738), is ordered to dredge the Lake and considerable efforts are made during the Yongzheng reign to restore the Lake and its environs. It is during this period that, although the reigning emperor did not visit West Lake, a new set of Eighteen Scenes (Xihu Shiba Jing 西湖十八景) are named. They are: 湖山春社、功德崇坊、海霞西爽、梅林歸鶴、魚沼秋蓉、蓮池松捨、寶石鳳亭、亭灣騎射、蕉石鳴琴、玉泉魚躍、鳳嶺松濤、湖心平眺、吳山大觀、天竺香市、雲棲梵徑、韜光觀海及西溪探梅). Yongzheng's son, who rules under the reign title Qianlong, affirms his grandfather's Ten Scenes by writing poems of his own to celebrate them and during his later Tours of the South he adds to this repertoire, naming Twenty-four Scenes of Hangzhou (Hangzhou Ershisi Jing 杭州二十四景). These include thirteen of Yongzheng's Eighteen Scenes. They are: 湖山春社、寶石鳳亭、玉帶晴虹、吳山大觀、梅林歸鶴、湖心平眺、蕉石鳴琴、玉泉魚躍、鳳嶺松濤、天竺香市、韜光觀海、雲棲梵徑、西溪探梅、小有天園、漪園湖亭、留余山居、篁嶺卷阿、吟香別業、瑞石古洞、黃龍積翠、香台普觀、澄觀台、六和塔、述古堂.

The People's Republic: the Eight Sites of the 1950s

In the early years of the People's Republic of China, although official policy supported the restoration of the original Ten Scenes of West Lake, the new government decides to create what it calls 'Eight Great Floral Sites' (ba da hua jing 八大花景). These are were:

One, 2000 new peach trees to be planted on the Su and Bai embankments;
Two, twenty mu of lotus planted at Quyuan Fenghe;
Three, 2000 maple trees to be planted on West Shining Hill;
Four, 500 plum trees on Solitary Island;
Five, 2000 cherry trees along the roads to the Temple of the Soul's Retreat;
Six, 1000 orchids (yulan) on the southern face of Geling Mountain, to turn the hillface white in the spring
Seven, 500 cassias for Manjue Long; and,
Eight, 2000 pines and ginko trees at Maojia Fu.[3]

The 1980s: Ten New Sights

1985-86, Ten New Scenes of West Lake (Xihu Xin Shijing 西湖新十景) are selected under the auspices of Hangzhou Daily, the West Lake parks and gardens administration and a number of local industries. Some 500,000 people participate in what is a rare form of democracy for mainland China. Stelae with the titles of the new scenes inscribed on them are erected in 1986. The scenes are: 1. 雲棲竹徑 (Bamboo-lined Path at Yunqi); 2. 滿隴桂雨 (Osmanthus Rain at Manlong Village); 3. 虎跑夢泉 (Dreaming of Spring Water at Hupao Valley); 4. 龙井问茶 (Searching for Tea at Dragon Well); 5. 九溪煙樹 (Nine-creeks Meandering Through the Misty Forest); 6. 吳山天風 (Heavenly Wind Over Wu Hill); 7. 阮墩环碧 (Master Ruan's Islet Suffused in Emerald); 8. 黃龍吐翠 (Yellow Dragon Cave Filled with Green); 9. 玉皇飛雲 (Clouds Scudding Over the Hill of the Jade Emperor); and, 10. 寶石流霞 (Precious Stone Hill Floating on Roseate Clouds)

The New Millennium and Ten Newer Sights

As we have noted in the Chronology of Hangzhou and West Lake, on 27 August 2007, following an involved process of popular nomination and expert consultation, another set of 'New Ten Scenes of West Lake' (Xihu Xin Shijing 西湖新十景) are announced at the Ninth West Lake Expo. They are: 靈隱禪蹤、六和聽濤、岳墓棲霞、 湖濱晴雨、 錢祠表忠,萬松書緣、楊堤景行、 三台雲水、 梅塢春早、 北街夢尋 (or, in simplified characters: 灵隐禅踪、 六和听涛、岳墓栖霞、 湖滨晴雨、 钱祠表忠,万松书缘、杨堤景行、 三台云水、 梅坞春早、 北街梦寻).


[1] Lu Xun, Lu Xun Selected Works, translated by Yang Xianyi and Glady Yang, Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1980, vol.2, pp.113-114 & pp.117-118.

[2] From Yu Qiuyu 余秋雨, 'West Lake Dream' (Xihu meng 西湖夢), online, at:

[3] From 'West Lake is Being Transformed' (Gaizao zhongde Xihu 改造中的西湖), Hangzhou Daily (Hangzhou Ribao 杭州日报), 17 May 1950, collected in Jin Yanfeng 李延锋 and Li Jinmei 李金美 (Zhonggong Zhejiangshengwei Dangshi Yanjiushi, Zhonggong Hangzhoushiwei Dangshi Yanjiushi), eds, Chengshide jieguan yu shehui gaizao (Zhejiang [Hangzhou] juan) 城市的接管与社会改造(浙江[杭州]卷, Beijing: Dangdai Zhongghua Chubanshe, 1996, pp.466-68, at p.467.