The area to the south of Hangzhou Bay is the site of excavation of the Neolithic Hemudu culture, dating back to around 4500 BC. Hangzhou's recorded history begins with the Qin dynasty (221-207 BC). During the Sui dynasty (581-618 AD), major construction was carried out on the Grand Canal, which was eventually to link Hangzhou with Beijing via a 1,600km (1,000 mile) waterway, forming one of the city's most important economic arteries.

During the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907-960 AD), the city, then known as Xifu, was the capital of the Wuyue Kingdom from 907 to 978, which established its place as one of the three great cultural centers of southern China.

After the Song dynasty was overthrown by Jurchen invaders from outside China, the Song court fled south and established Hangzhou (then known as Lin'an) as the imperial capital of the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), making it the center of political, cultural and economic life in southern China.

Under the Yuan dynasty, political power was centralized in Beijing, but the cultural and economic importance of Hangzhou was undimmed. Marco Polo (1254-1324) visited the city several times and wrote extensively about it, making the now-famous remark that it was "without doubt the finest and noblest city in the world".

The city's importance as a port, established very early, continued until the harbor silted up during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The Taiping Rebellion in the mid-19th century was a disaster for Hangzhou: Taiping forces captured the city, and the bitter fighting to re-take it destroyed most of Hangzhou. 

After the fall of imperial China, Hangzhou was ruled by the Kuomintang under Chiang Kai-Shek until 1949 when the Communist party finally took control of the city. Since the opening up of China to the west in the 1980s, the boom in the Yangtze delta has catapulted Hangzhou into the top rank of China's economically important cities, and made it a leading manufacturer of machinery, electronics, information technology, medicine, chemicals, textiles & apparel and food & beverage processing. 

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