Committee on Environment, Geography and Urbanization

Division of Social Sciences, The University of Chicago

Issue 7 | Spring 2024

When I Hear the Echoes

Photo Essay by Yiyao Sun

This series of photos was taken in winter 2023 in Hangzhou, a city located in southeastern China. The city, which surrounds West Lake and is intersected by the Qiantang River, served as a commercial hub in ancient China for several dynasties. Today, Hangzhou is a thriving city and a capital of tourism.

I saw the city as a blend of Buddhist serenity and modern prosperity. As I walked on weathered tiles, I heard the bustling sounds of tourists and resonating chants from ancient temples. I wandered through run-down gardens whose dilapidated appearances betrayed their immense cultural significance. Standing atop Cixi Temple, I overlooked West Lake and the complex web of Hangzhou’s intersecting streets. I watched as a line of doves glided over the gilded spires of the city’s famous pagodas, overshadowed by statues of the smiling Buddha.

While somewhat paradoxical for such a metropolis, my photographic portrayal of Hangzhou focuses on nature devoid of the markings of civilization. I believe these scenes best showcase the lessons of ancient Hangzhou.

When humans turn to deities for their wishes and desires, they seek control over the hardships they cannot overcome and the time they cannot cross. When humans wish for eternal happiness, they are limited by the unreachability of eternity. Meanwhile, nature exists with a silent timelessness. In my photos, it envelops humans and overshadows even their most ancient works. Nature has the very power that humans are searching for with their deities and have never realized: eternity. It is always growing, evolving, and renewing, exhibiting a grand cyclicality that dwarves humans even in the middle of their largest cities.