It’s a true blessing that the city planners of Fuzhou seem to consistently care about green spaces in this relatively densely populated city. Noticeably there have been new or enlarged parks emerging on the map of Fuzhou, but no others could tender the heart of the locals or arouse their childhood memories like Westlake (or Xihu) Lake does. It was the go-to destination for all the school trips and family weekend get-away until 2000’s, as well as one of the first things coming through their mind when they wanted to take their date out – in the park or out in one of the bars lining the lake front.
Also, nothing would ever beat Westlake on class and history in Fuzhou. Westlake Park dates back to 1,700 years ago in the Jin Dynasty and remained a major attraction since late Tang (618-907) period. The royal family of Min (meaning Fujian) State claimed Westlake Park as an imperial garden later in the Five Dynasties time around 1,000 years ago. In 1914, it was officially opened to the public as Westlake Park. Today it’s the only place in town to admire those standard features of classical Chinese gardens with constructed landscapes. This style mimics natural scenery of rocks, hills and rivers with strategically located pavilions and pagodas.
The typical landscape embodying the special elegance can be found in the gardens behind Kaihuan Temple (开化寺) Isle and in the Damengshan (大梦山) area. Kaihuan Temple sits in the heart of the bigger isle (also named Kaihua Isle) and it’s pretty much the first thing you see after walking over the entrance causeway (called Willow Causeway starting from the South Gate). The whole isle of Kaihua takes about 15 minutes to do a circle along the lake-side pathways, but it’d take much longer if you explore into the interior.
Westlake Park, in its entirety, comprises three parts in addition to the lake obviously. The three parts are two isles, named Kaihua and Tseping respectively, and the Damengshan area in the south-west on the bank. Kaihua is the isle to which the causeway immediately leads and it’s also where the dock of pleasure-boats is located, if you feel like a bit of getting on the water. There are both paddle and electric versions for rent.
Back in 2011, they decided the little amusement park on Tseping Isle fell out of fashion and did not really synch with the whole atmosphere. For the next two years, all the funfair facilities were dismantled piece-by-piece except the largest one called Seaworld, which stands till this day, in an understandably dilapidated condition though, as a result of some vague ownership dispute. Just because there’s not too much to see or to do on Tseping, it’s actually always seeing less foot traffic and eventually became my favorite place of Westlake Park. Sometimes maybe you just need a bit space and that’s it.
Strolling further westward takes you to the beautiful Damengshan area, which’s the latest addition to Westlake Park in the spring of 2009. They restored two historic places of interest here – namely Westlake Academy and an attraction featuring pine trees. The best visiting time is probably in the summer, when all the lotus in the pond are in full bloom, and weather permitting, a distinctive ‘pine’ sound is created when breeze fiddles through the tree tops. Although all the buildings in this areas are merely ten years old, the workers did such an amazing job to render the architecture an incredible retro look.
Nowadays there are many exits/entrances along the periphery of the lake and so you can design your own itinerary in whatever way that suits you best. The Fujian Museum up in the north is technically not a part of the park proper but it’s so convenient to get to from either Damengshan or Kaihua Isle. Looking at the map, in my opinion, it might work better to the space continuity if the Museum and it’s nearby modern buildings could switch location with parts of Zuohai Park. Thankfully the effort to bring Westlake Park closer to Zuohai Park has been active since the end of 2018, and two footpaths are being paved to make it easier for park goers to traverse between the two.