Evidence exists that shows human beings lived in the Hangzhou area as early as 8,000 years ago. Many refined jade articles and pieces of pottery have been recovered that once belonged to the Liangzhu Culture (5,300-4,200 years ago), indicating a highly developed ancient civilization existed in the Hangzhou area.
In ninth year (AD 589) of the Kaihuang Reign of the Sui Dynasty (AD 581–618), Yang Jian, Emperor Wen of the Sui Dynasty, conquered Chen (AD 557–589) and changed the name of Qiantang County to Hangzhou. Backed by Phoenix Hill, the diameter of early Hangzhou was expanded by 15 kilometres around the former Qiantang County. In the sixth year (AD 610) of the Sui Dynasty, Yang Guang, Emperor Yang, finished a canal from Jingkou (now called Zhenjiang) to Hangzhou to connect the Jiangbei Canal. During the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, the Grand Canal connecting Beijing and Hangzhou was called the Jing–Hang Canal; it played a vital role in economic development and in cultural exchanges between South and North China. Gongchen Bridge in Hangzhou marks the southern end of the canal.
During the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (AD 907–979), the Wuyue Kingdom established its capital in Hangzhou. At that time, Hangzhou was called Xifu or Xidu. Avoiding the warring factions of the central plains of China, the ruler of the Wuyue Kingdom adopted a policy of peace and security; this aided the rapid development of the kingdom’s economy and culture. The people opined: “Qiantang is much richer than the Southeast.”
In the third year (AD 1129) of the Jianyan Reign of the Southern Song (1127–1279), Emperor Gaozong fled from pursuing Jin Kingdom (1115–1234) armies from Yangzhou to Hangzhou. Yangzhou was known as Lin’an Fu or Xingzai Suo under imperial rules. In the eighth year (AD 1138) of Shaoxing, the Southern Song formally established its capital at Lin’an (Hangzhou).
During the first 15 years after the ascent of the Yuan Dynasty (in 1278), Marco Polo arrived in what is now known as Beijing. Six years later, the capital of Jianghuai Province moved from Yangzhou to Hangzhou and Jianghuai Province was renamed Jiangzhe Province. Marco Polo was an official there for three years. In his book, Travels of Marco Polo, Marco Polo praised Hangzhou as the “the most beautiful and magnificent city in the world,” and “when you were there, you would have believed you were in paradise.”
In May 1996, with approval of the State Council, the Puyan, Changhe and Xixing townships under the management of Xiaoshan Municipality and Sandun, Jiubao and Xiasha townships under Yuhang Municipality on the southern bank of the Qiantang River were incorporated into Hangzhou Municipality, which provided an opportunity for the development of Central Hangzhou on either side of the river.
In 2000, the West Lake Expo, first held in 1929 and as renowned as the Paris Expo and Philadelphia Expo, was reconvened.
The West Lake Expo is now held annually, in the autumn.
On January 8, 2007, a slogan was created to symbolize Hangzhou: Quality Life City. This reflects that Hangzhou now operates on “Qiantang River Time” and that it is developing a new urban layout and development model: the “Harmonious Business Start-up,” all in service to making Hangzhou a real “Quality Life City.”
With an exciting and event-filled history of more than 2,000 years since Hangzhou's founding during the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC), during which the city often served as a capital or a key city, this ancient city elevated its special blend of classical Chinese culture and economic and commercial life to spectacular peaks.
The tradition continues today: Hangzhou has an enviable transportation system making surface or air travel easy for business or pleasure; unparalleled ease can be found in its logistics system, whether shipping by land, sea or air. Because of these advances - the fruit of 30 years of reform and opening, which is being augmented by the day - Hangzhou's fortunes and those of its residents and businesses are growing; dreams are being realized at all levels of society. Improved communications are resulting in even more and wider exchanges, both globally and in China, of thoughts and ideas that will lead to even greater innovations and progress, just as in days gone by when Marco Polo described Hangzhou as the "most splendid and heavenly city in the world.