Lakes in China — Legend, History, and Culture

According to Tao Te Ching, water is the finest good. It is soft, shapeless, stays low and indisputable, nurtures everything in the universe; besides, it is the strongest force that is capable of destroying everything. 

Confucius respected the water as insistent, targeted, and pure, which contains many good virtues that a decent person should obtain. 

Therefore, famous lakes in China hold fascinating cultural meanings, as well as mysterious origins, attractive legends, and significant historical values. 

West Lake by dadaowuyan.jpg

West Lake



West Lake is a World Cultural Heritage Site, whose history and culture have triumphed over the spectacular natural scenes.

Large numbers of famous historical figures left their stories, and many appealing mythological legends took place here.

Picturesque views, harmonious aesthetics, beautiful folklores, and invaluable historical relics of the West Lake have been eulogized in China for thousands of years.

Alias: Xi Hu, Xi Zi, Qian Tang Hu. 


Location: Zhejiang Province, East of China.


Area: 6.39 square kilometers. 


Deity and Legend:


  • The West Lake was the incarnation of a fancy jade from heaven, and two mountains next to it were two deities guarding the jade. 


  • Legend of White Snake, in which a white snake incarnated as a beautiful woman, met her love on the bridge (named Duan Qiao) of the West Lake, and then got suppressed in the Leifeng Pagoda next by. 


  • First honey trap Xi Shi and her love Fan Li, in some legends, lived near the West Lake in seclusion after they had helped their king defeated another kingdom, and completed the vengeance in around 473 BC. 


  • Singer Su Xiaoxiao (about 479 — 502) fell for her beloved one and buried next to the West Lake.


Related History and People:


  • Emperors that had visited the West Lake and left stories: Qin Shi Huang (259 BC — 210 BC), Kang Xi (1654 — 1722), Qian Long (1711 — 1799), etc. 


  • Emperor Yang Guang (569 — 618) constructed the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, which connected the West Lake to other rivers.



  • Heroes who buried next to the West Lake and have commemorative temples: Yue Fei (1103 — 1142), Yu Qian (1398 — 1457), Zhang Huangyan (1620 — 1664), Qiu Jin (1875 — 1907), etc. 


  • Famous scholars that had worked and lived, wrote poems or left paintings about the West Lake: Feng Zikai, Bai Juyi, Su Shi, Xin Qiji, Liu Yong, etc. 

Tourist Attractions


  • Ancient temples, pagodas, bridges, dams, and other old buildings around the West Lake.

  • Residences, graves, and memorial temples of famous historical figures.

  • Beautiful natural sceneries of lakes, mountains, caves, islands, and flowers in different seasons. 

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Poyang Lake by Liao Hao.jpg

Poyang Lake



Poyang Lake is the World’s Largest Bird Reserve, a paradise of aquatic birds.


The largest scale water battle in the Medieval era also took place in Poyang Lake, which played an essential role in establishing the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644). 


A Devil's Triangle is located near an ancient temple that worships the King of Dragon, where countless ships disappeared mysteriously throughout history. 



Alias: Peng Li, Peng Ze, Guan Ting Hu. 


Location: Jiangxi Province, Southeast of China.


Area: About 3150 — 4400 square kilometers, based on seasonal differences in water levels.


Related History and People:


  • In the year 1363 (30th of August — 4th of October), Zhu Yuanzhang led 200, 000 warriors defeated his rival’s 650, 000 soldiers in Poyang Lake, which set a solid foundation for his establishment of the Ming Dynasty in 5 years later.


This is also the largest scale water battle in the Medieval era. 


  • Wang Shouren defeated and captured a rebellion king (Zhu Chenhao) through a decisive, final battle in Poyang Lake, in the year 1519. 


  • Many exceptional scholars wrote poems and articles about beautiful scenes, such as Tao Yuanming (352 — 427), Wang Bo (about 650 — 676), Su Shi (1037 — 1101), and Xie Jin (1369 — 1415). 


Tourist Attractions:


  • War relics from the Battle of Poyang Lake in 1363. 


  • When Poyang Lake entered the Dry Season (the water level lower than 10.5 meters), a 2657-meter long ancient bridge (in 1631) would show up.


  • Ancient temples, pagodas, and Confucianism Academy.


  • Valuable aquatic birds like White Crane. 


  • Mountains, islands, and other spectacular natural views.

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Hongze Lake

Hongze is the largest hanging lake in China, whose bottom is even higher than the altitude of nearby ground, because of a grand dam that holds up the water. 


Under the lake, there’s an ancient city ruin that was buried by flood in the year 1680. 



Alias: Fu Ling Hu, Po Fu Tang, Hong Ze Fu, Hung-tse Lake. 


Location: Jiangsu Province, East of China. 


Area: about 2069 square kilometers on average. 


Deity and Legend:


Lao Zi, the writer of Tao Te Ching and founder of Taoism, used to do alchemy on top of a mountain, named the Mountain of Lao Zi, in the southern Hongze Lake. 


Related History and People:


  • Emperor Yang Guang changed the lake’s name from “Pofu” to “Hongze” in the year 616, after having seen the stunning view of the sudden increased water level after heavy rain. 



Tourist Attractions:


  • Grand water conservancy project, and ancient huge embankment built since the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 — 220). 


  • Metal made rhinoceroses that were used to suppress the huge flood that was built in 1701.


  • Ancient buildings and stone monuments that scattering on mountains in the lake. 


  • Mountain of Lao Zi, which has a cave that Lao Zi used to live in, and a plat that he used to do alchemy. 


  • Mausoleum of the ancestors of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, which was built in 1386, submerged in 1680, and re-exposed in 1966.  


  • Beautiful natural sceneries. 

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Chaohu Lake


Chaohu Lake is a landscape with great cultural and military values in the history of China.


There’s an over 2000 years ancient city buried under the lake, millennium temples in the middle, and cultural relics from different dynasties in history.  



Alias: Nan Chao, Ju Chao Hu, Jiao Hu. 


Location: Anhui Province, Middle of China.


Area: about 780 square kilometers. 



Deity and Legend:


  • A white dragon saved people when the ancient city was flooded under Chaohu Lake.


  • Deity Lv Dongbin practiced Taoism and became a divine being in a cave here.


Tourist Attractions:


  • Millennium temples to worship local deities, and to commemorate a heroine that saved countless people.


  • Ancient temples, pagodas, military ruins, and other buildings scattering in the islands and mountains in the lake.


  • Thermal spring and former residences of famous historical figures. 


  • Ancient towns and mountains next to Chaohu Lake.


  • Mysterious cave (Zi Wei Dong) and the underground river flowing across.


  • Spectacular natural scenes. 

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Dongting Lake


Dongting Lake used to be named the Dream of Cloud, is a cultural landscape that was eulogized by famous scholars, and an important military site that many important historic events took place.


Besides its rich cultural relics, Dongting Lake also serves a significant function in ecology and agriculture for local inhabitants. 


Alias: Dream of Clouds, Yun Meng Ze, Jiu Jiang.


Location: Hunan Province, Middle-South of China. 


Area: About 2740 square kilometers. 



Deity and Legend:


  • Neolithic King Shun’s two wives (E Huang and Nv Ying) were departed here, and then became Deities of the Dongting Lake. 


  • A brave young man named Liu Yi saved a daughter of a Dragon King, by going to the Dragon’s Palace underwater, through a magical well. 

Tourist Attractions:


  • Ancient military parader tower (Yue Yang Lou) on the lakeside, and literatures appreciating the lake that was left by famous scholars in history. 

  • Residence, memorial temples, and mausoleums of historical figures.

  • Mount Dongting in the middle of the lake, and ancient architectures on the mountain. 

  • The Well that hero Liu Yi entered the Dragon’s Palace underwater.

  • Military ruins of an uprising army in the year 1131.

  • Attractive natural sceneries.

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Thousand Island Lake or Qiandao Lake

Thousand Island Lake or Qiandao Lake is a beautiful artificial lake scattered with 1078 islands, surrounded by invaluable cultural sites, and with ancient cities and villages submerged underwater.  



Alias: Qian Dao Hu, Thousand Islet Lake, Xin An Reservoir. 


Location: Zhejiang Province, East of China. 


Area: about 580 square kilometers. 



Tourist Attractions:


  • Cultural ruins since the Neolithic era.


  • Millennium cities submerged under the lake.


  • Ancient temples, tombs, academies, and residences scattering there.


  • Long bike paths around the lake. 


  • Appealing natural views. 

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East Lake Scenic Area of Wuhan


East Lake of Wuhan, the center of ancient Chu Culture, is a large city lake with picturesque natural views, surrounded by beautiful specialized botanical gardens and rich cultural sites, including ancient ruins, grand museums, universities, etc. 


Alias: Dong Hu.


Location: Hubei Province, Middle-South of China.


Area: 33 square kilometers. 



Tourist Attractions:


  • Flower gardens and bird reserves.


  • Tourist Park of Culture of Kingdom Chu (1115 BC — 223 BC).


  • A big amusement park (Happy Valley).


  • Nearby museums.


  • Beautiful natural scenes. 

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Taihu Lake

Taihu Lake, the cradle of Wuyue Culture, is a huge Freshwater Lake with stunningly beautiful natural views. 


Alias: Zhen Ze, Li Ze.


Location: Jiangsu and Zhejiang Province, East of China. 


Area: 2338 square kilometers.



Deity and Legend:


The Taihu Lake was the incarnation of a treasure from heaven, a magical silver basin inlaid with 72 emerald beads, that accidentally fell into the earth.


Tourist Attractions:


  • Ancient buildings in the towns alongside Taihu Lake. 


  • Residence, stone carving, and articles of famous historical figures. 


  • Stunning natural sceneries. 

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Hulun Lake


Hulun Lake area has been the cradle land of northern nomadic groups throughout Chinese history, such as the Huns or Xiongnu, Xianbei, Turkic, Jurchen, and Mongolia.


As a big lake in Hulunbuir Prairie, Hulun Lake is also an important habitat and migration path for about 1/5 of all Chinese bird genres. 


Therefore, it is a place with beautiful natural scenes and northern Chinese nomad culture.



Alias: Hulun Buir, Da Ze, Ju Lun Bo, Xuan Mo Chi, etc. 


Location: Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, North of China.


Area: 2339 square kilometers. 


Deity and Legend:


A beautiful Mongolian girl named Hulun swallowed a magical bead and incarnated into a lake, to protect her love and local habitats from a devil.


Since then, this lake was named Hulun, to memorize her courage and great love.


Tourist Attractions:


  • Mongolian culture, food, Yurt, and other activities.


  • Birds, fish, and other wild animals.


  • Stunning natural scenes. 

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Qinghai Lake


Qinghai Lake is the largest lake in China. 


It is located on the northeast of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau; therefore, alongside the stunning natural views, the nomadic culture is also quite appealing, especially Tibetan and Mongolian customs. 


Alias: Cyan Sea, West Sea, Xian Hai.


Location: Qinghai Province, Middle-West of China.


Area: About 4236 square kilometers. 


Deity and Legend:


  • Qinghai Lake is the biggest pond of the Deity Xi Wang Mu, where she held grand banquets to entertain other immortals from heaven. 


  • A Dragon diverted water from 108 other lakes westward, and formed the Qinghai Lake, also named the West Sea. This dragon then became the Dragon King of the West Sea, protecting the local inhabitants here. 


  • In recent centuries, many people witnessed monsters in the water here. 



Tourist Attractions:


  • Four mountains surrounding Qinghai Lake.


  • Grand flower fields and ancient towns alongside the lake.


  • Ancient Tibetan Buddhism temples and pagodas. 


  • Grand worship ceremony of Tibetan and Mongolian, and other minority cultural attractions.


  • Breathtaking natural landscapes, a perfect combination of lake, desert, prairie snow berg, and mountains.

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Heavenly Lake of Tianshan



Besides breathtaking sceneries as a World Natural Heritage and National Geopark, the Heavenly Lake of Tianshan also is famous for its important cultural values.


It has a close connection with Xi Wang Mu, an important deity in ancient Chinese Mythology and Taoism Religion



Alias: Tianshan Tianchi Lake, Yao Chi, Long Tan, Shen Chi.


Location: Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Northwest of China. 


Area: 380.69 square kilometers. 



Deity and Legend:


Divine Xi Wang Mu used to live, shower, hold grand banquets to entertain other deities in the Heavenly Lake of Tianshan.  


Related History and People:


  • Ji Man, the King Mu of Zhou, lead his army to arrive at the Heavenly Lake, where deity Xi Wang Mu held a grand banquet to welcome him. 


  • Famous Taoist Qiu Chuji and his apprentices built temples there, right before his famous meeting with Genghis Khan in the year 1222. 


Tourist Attractions:


  • Cave, pond, temple, and mountain that Deity Xi Wang Mu had been to or lived in. 


  • Ancient religious murals in grand, mysterious caves, where believed many divine beings used to live.   


  • Ruins of ancient Taoism temple that was built by Qiu Chuji. 


  • A millennium elm growing in the lake, which is believed as the incarnation of deity Xi Wang Mu’s hairpin that was used to suppress a monster under the lake.


  • Culture and customs of Kazakh people.


  • Snow berg and glacier landscape.


  • Precious alpine flowers like Saussurea Involucrata.


  • Stunning natural sceneries. 

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Kanas Lake

Located between magnificent mountains, Kanas Lake has been quite mysterious. As a tourist attraction that is discovered recently, Kanas is considered a mysterious wonderland, the garden of divine beings. 


The water of Kanas has different colors every day, based on temperature, season, plant, etc. 


Around the lake are some villages, in which live the Tuvas People. 



Location: Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Northwest of China. 


Area: 45.73 square kilometers. 

Tourist Attractions


  • Colorful water, prairie, mountains, forest, and other stunning natural landscapes. 


  • Villages of Tuvas people, and Tuvas culture. 


  • Ancient rock paintings.


  • Fantastic natural beauties. 

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Erhai Lake


Around the Erhai Lake lives people of the ethnic group of Bai. Their food, residence, building, history, customs are all special and appealing. 


Alias: Er He, Ye Yu He, 


Location: Yunnan Province, Southwest of China. 


Area: About 251 square kilometers. 



Tourist Attractions


  • Three-millennium pagodas next to.


  • 18 peaks surrounding the lake.


  • Cultural relics of Kingdom Nanzhao (738 — 902).


  • Ancient City Dali on the lakeside that was built in 1382. 


  • Culture and activities of minority group Bai. 

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Lugu Lake


Surrounded by many high mountains, the Lugu Lake lives people of ethnic groups of Mosuo, Tibetan, Zhuang, Mongolia, Bai, Yi, Pumi, etc. 


Among them, the people of Mosuo still follow the Matriarchal culture, in which people don’t get married, and the only date for love at night.


Alias: Le De Hai, Luku Hu, Zuosuo Hai, Liang Hai. 


Location: Yunnan and Sichuan Province, Southwest of China. 


Area: 50.1 square kilometers. 



Deity and Legend:


The tallest peak next to the Lugu Lake is the incarnation of the Deity Gemu, where people of Mosuo pilgrimage and hold grand ceremonies to worship her on important holidays. 



Tourist Attractions


  • Matriarchal culture and buildings of Mosuo people. 


  • Customs of other minority groups. 


  • Ancient pilgrimage path on mountains, and Temples of Tibetan Buddhism. 


  • Large grass sea, where lives large numbers of birds.


  • Spectacular natural sceneries. 

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Namtso Lake

Namtso Lake, also named the Lake of Heaven, is the highest (average elevation is 4718 meters) great lake in the world.


It is also a sacred place of Tibetan Buddhism, where large numbers of believers would pilgrimage.



Alias: Na Mu Cuo, Tian Hu, Lake of Heaven. 


Location: Tibet Autonomous Region, West of China. 


Area: 1920 square kilometers. 



Deity and Legend:


  • Namtso is the incarnation of a goddess, Mount Nyenchen Tanglha next to the lake is her love. Together they protect the wellbeing of local habitants, for thousands of years. 


  • In other legends, Namtso Lake originally fell from the sky; therefore, it is also named the Lake of Heaven.


Tourist Attractions:


  • Tibetan Buddhism temples and activities.


  • Local Tibetan culture and customs. 


  • Islands, stone statues, mysterious rock paintings, and caves that relate to local folklores.


  • Stunning Starry sky.


  • Magnificent natural sceneries. 

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Yamdroktso Lake



Surrounding by four sacred mountains, Yamdroktso Lake is one of the holiest places for Tibetan Buddhists to pilgrimage.



Alias: Yang Zhuo Cuo, Lake of Jade, Swan Lake.


Location: Tibet Autonomous Region, West of China.


Area: 638 square kilometers. 



Tourist Attractions:


  • Spectacular natural views.


  • Tibetan Buddhism temples and activities.


  • Local Tibetan culture and customs.


  • Special islands scattering in the colorful lake. 

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Lake Manasarovar


Lake Manasarovar is one of the most sacred places for Hindus and Tibetan Buddhists to pilgrimage. The water there is believed able to wash off people’s sins.



Alias: Lake of Victory, Mapang Yongcuo, Ma Chui. 


Location: Tibet Autonomous Region, West of China.


Area: 412 square kilometers. 



Deity and Legend:


According to some local folklores, there are 500 places under the lake, inside living mysterious Tibetan dragons and reserve large numbers of treasures. 



Tourist Attractions:


  • Historical Buddhist temples.


  • Ancient pilgrimage paths and ferries. 


  • Stunningly magnificent natural views.