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The Water Heritage of China: The Polders of Tai Lake Basin as Continuing Landscape

Lookup NU author(s): Professor John Pendlebury



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


This paper examines the long history of planned water and landscape management in China, focusing on the Tai Lake Basin located in the southern part of the Yangtze River Delta. To position this polder landscape within the broad spectrum of water heritage in China, the paper examines the historical perceptions and symbolism of water and its decisive role in shaping Chinese outlooks on empire, urban settlements and landscapes. It then delineates the evolution of polder landscapes in the Tai Lake Basin, which has been recurrently transformed since the 5th century BCE through to their contemporary condition. Despite changing material forms, the polder landscapes in the region evidence continuous endeavour to manage water for both productive (food) and preventive (flood) purposes. The latter part of the paper considers to what extent these polder landscapes might now be considered as a ‘continuing landscape’— an organically evolved cultural landscape reflecting the changing needs of society, economy, government as well as flood prevention. Today, with few features that are materially historical, their continued existence has been threatened by urbanisation, land consolidation and agricultural modernisation. The paper advocates historically informed landscape planning to safeguard these dynamic and adaptive agricultural landscapes.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Wang Y, Pendlebury J, Nolf C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Planning Perspectives

Year: 2023

Volume: 38

Issue: 5

Pages: 949-974

Online publication date: 29/11/2022

Acceptance date: 10/10/2022

Date deposited: 10/10/2022

ISSN (print): 0266-5433

ISSN (electronic): 1466-4518

Publisher: Routledge


DOI: 10.1080/02665433.2022.2135131


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