By Lydia Shu
Birthplace of Longjing tea (Dragon Well tea) and home to ecommerce powerhouse Alibaba, the emerging tech hub and capital of eastern China’s Zhejiang province is also known for its beautiful landscapes and traditional silk industry.
Culture by the water
Situated in the city centre, Hangzhou’s West Lake is both a breathtakingly scenic spot and a cultural landmark. Famous for its influence on Chinese poetry, paintings and garden design, the Unesco World Heritage Site’s significance is such that it features on the back of the Rmb1 banknote. Locals like to cycle down the Su and Bai causeways, taking in the gorgeous views of the water, mountains, bridges and pagodas.
Known as “the kidney of Hangzhou” for its cleansing properties, the Xixi National Wetland Park, a 20-minute drive from West Lake, is a conglomeration of ponds, lakes, swamps and villages that dates back to the Han dynasty (third century AD). With a vivid cultural heritage, the wetlands play host to one of the biggest dragon boat festivals in south China every June and continue to be a home to the ancient crafts of silk farming and book engraving.
The city has the largest public bicycle-sharing system in the world, with five times the number of bikes in London despite having only a slightly larger population, at 9.47m. Bike rental is as easy as downloading an app and scanning a code. A single ride costs Rmb1, a mere $0.14.
Growing tech hub
Hangzhou is home to 26 unicorn companies (privately owned companies valued at more than $1bn) and 105 companies valued at more than $100m. With these companies mostly focused on ecommerce, IT and internet financing, Hangzhou is at the forefront of China’s drive to develop its digital economy and tech and innovation capacities.
The city is fast becoming one of the biggest innovation centres globally for artificial intelligence and robotics, with the Zhejiang government developing several IT centres — such as the Future Sci-Tech City — as part of a five-year plan unveiled last year.
The district government has partnered with Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba to foster a business environment conducive to local start-ups in Future Sci-Tech City. It hosts Alibaba’s headquarters and other fast-growing start-ups, including AI specialist Rokid.
In a similar vein, Hangzhou’s fintech capital Xixi Valley Internet Finance Town now hosts more than 250 companies, including Zhima, Mogujie and Ant Financial Services. The Hangzhou Blockchain Industrial Park opened in April this year, with $1.6bn of funding announced for blockchain start-ups, 30 per cent of which was supplied by the Yuhang district government.
Time for tea
Hangzhou is home to one of China’s favourite teas, Longjing tea (Dragon Well tea), a variety of pan-roasted green tea known for its aromatic flavour and health benefits.
With Longjing tea fields located a 20-minute drive from the city centre in Meijiawu and Longjing tea villages, Hangzhou residents have easy access to a wide variety of premium quality but affordable tea leaves at local markets such as the Hangzhou Jiefang Road Non-staple Food Tea Market. A popular weekend pastime is to hike through the sprawling tea fields and enjoy a meal with freshly picked tea at one of the village tea houses.
Silk has been one of the cornerstones of Hangzhou’s economy since the Tang Dynasty (from the seventh to 10th centuries), when the fabric was reserved for the imperial family, and the Southern Song Dynasty (10th to 13th centuries), when the silk industry began to thrive and Hangzhou earned its moniker the Capital of Silk.
Today, Hangzhou remains famous for producing high-quality silk and satin. Locals visit Silk City, one of China’s biggest wholesale and retail markets for silk, to pick up fabrics, scarves, garments and handicraft that are also exported across the globe.
Photographs: Getty Images/iStockphoto; Alamy; Dreamstime