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Home East China Attractions Nanjing Tourist Attractions Nanjing Xuanwu Lake

Nanjing Xuanwu Lake


Located in downtown Nanjing, Xuwu Lake (玄武湖) is a national scenic area at the foot of the Purple Mountain, and also the largest lake in the imperial garden of China. It is also a leading and influential imperial garden complex in East China and one of three most famous lakes in Jiangnan region. Furthermore, the local historian takes it as the largest city park in Jiangnan region. It boasts the Pearl of Nanjing. Macroscopically viewed, it is surrounded by the City Wall of Ming Dynasty, the Jiuhua Mountain and the Ancient Jiming Temple.

In geographic theory and traditional philosophy, Xuanwu means the northern side. In this way, Xuanwu Lake could be explained to be a lake on the northern side. In the ancient fairy story, Xuanwu is one of four gods in charge of four directions. The northern god was Xuanwu, who has a mixed look of the tortoise and snake.

Zhuge Liang(诸葛亮, 181-234), a sage of intelligence and the prime minster of Shu Kingdom in the period of Three Kingdoms, once went by the Xuanwu Lake, and said this place was best for imperial residing, due to the Zhongshan Mountain winding the city like a dragon, the rocks nearby like the tigers. (Zhuge Liang’s comment was highly believed, because he was a great master of Fengshui theory and also owned some magic power in the legend.)

Ouyang Xiu(欧阳修, 1007-1072), who was the literary master of Northern Song Dynasty, commented the relationship of city and lake in Jiangnan region – The Best Lake in Nanjing (anciently named Jinling) was the Hou Lake (Xuanwu Lake), and the best lake in Hangzhou (ancient named Qiantang) was the West Lake. It used to be the preferred place to stay by Xiao Tong, Du Mu, Li Bai, Li Shangyin, Liu Yuxi, Li Yu, Wei Zhuang, and Cao Xueqin.

The Panoramic View of Xuanwu Lake, Nanjing

The Xuanwu Lake is comprised of five islets – Round Islet(Huan Zhou, 环洲), Cherry Islet(YingZhou, 樱洲), Water Caltrop Islet(Ling Zhou, 菱洲), Liangzhou Islet(梁洲, the oldest islet among the islets in Xuanwu Lake with a large number of the cultural sites), and Green Islet(Cui Zhou, 翠洲). All of the islets were interconnected by the bridges and causeways. They are naturally integrated. Also the lake is linked with the Yangtze River, and used to be the ideal place of navy training.

The History of Xuanwu Lake – Ancient China’s Largest Imperial File Store

Known as a cultural lake with a history more than 1,500 years, Xuanwu Lake also called Hou Lake or Sangbo Lake in history. In the era of Six Dynasties (六朝, a divisive period of China that six states appeared and selected Nanjing as their capital in turn in east China between Three Kingdoms Period and Sui Dynasty ), Xuanwu Lake is a part of the Imperial Garden.

Up to Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), it was exclusively used to be the storehouse of imperial volumes(黄册库), and a part of imperial family’s forbidden zone. In history, it was formally named Hou Lake Huang Ce Ku with a special functionality of collecting and reserving the files and records of taxes and corvees throughout the country.

In the early Ming Dynasty, specifically in 1381, the Huangce Policy was implemented all around the country. In the terms of this policy, the regions and prefectures were forced to weave the file collection of taxes and corvees every 10 years. There are four editions of the collection. Three of them have the cyan covers and reserved in the regional and prefectural governments, and the other one has the yellow cover, which was also called Huang Ce, and was submitted to the central government and preserved in the storehouses built on the islets of the Xuanwu Lake.

Up to 1602, there were 667 storehouses on Xuanwu Lake with an amount of 1.53 million files. And by the end of the Ming Dynasty, the number increased to 1.79 million. Meantime, some special map collections of the farmland scale were also collected here. It was historically agreed to be the largest file store in the ancient China. On the other hand, the Xuanwu Lake was isolated for more than 260 years.

In Qing Dynasty (1616-1912), Xuanwu Lake was opened as a park, and later, it was blocked and wild without any reconstruction until the modern times’ several restorations and enlargements.

The Ancient Gate in Xuanwu Lake Park, Nanjing

Ten Top Views of Xuanwu Lake

Wuzhou Chunxiao(五洲春晓) - The Early Spring Comes to Five Islets

Lvyuan Xinfeng(侣园馨风) - The Fragrant Wind at Lvyuan Garden

Lianhu Changwan (莲湖晚唱) - Singing to Praise the Evening Scenery at Lotus Lake

Taicheng Yanliu (台城烟柳) - The Misty Willow at the Forbidden City, Nanjing

Guta Xieyang (古塔斜阳) - The Ancient Pagoda under the Setting Sun

Jiuhua Zhaohui (九华朝晖) - The Morning Sunlight above the Jiuhua Mountain

Jiming Wanzhong (鸡鸣晚钟) - The Evening Bell at Jiming Temple

Xidi Qiuyue (西堤秋月) - The Autumnal Moon at Western Causeway

Yuehu Shengge (月湖笙歌) - The Sing and Dance at Moon Lake

Guqiang Mingjing (古墙明镜) – The Bright Mirror at the Ancient Wall

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Editor: Julius from Mildchina
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