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Chinese Pagodas

Pagoda, originally meant tomb in Sanskrit, refers to the place where the ashes of ancient Indian monks were buried after their death. It originated in India and was brought into China along with Buddhism in the Han Dynasty. Nowadays, such ancient architecture is still widely respected by the Buddhist disciples and praised as an outstanding architectural form from ancient China.

Origin of Chinese Pagoda

Around the 1st century, the Indian stupa was introduced into China. To better suit the Chinese aesthetics, ancient Chinese people integrated the original stupa styles with the traditional pavilions and attics, creating the pagoda with multiple floors and a nine-layer tower spire. 

Chinese Pagoda vs. Indian Pagoda

Like the Chinese, the Indians also believed in the idea of a round heaven and square ground. Therefore, the semi-circular stupa represented the Buddhist cosmology. When the stupa was brought into China, ancient Chinese people created the round top with square-shaped attics at the bottom functioning as supporters. Not only that, but Chinese people also imposed the humanized content on Buddhism. They built temples together with pagodas. Therefore, where there is a pagoda, there is a temple. Inside the temple, divine halls were built to offer sacrifices to Buddhas along with the pagoda. For instance, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda became an elegant building that attracted numerous scholars to visit. The Six Harmonious Pagoda nearby the Qiantang River has become the beacon for the riverboat at night. While the pagoda inside the Kaiyuan Temple in Hebei province also served as a spot for military observation. The Guojie Tower of Juyongguan Great Wall also functions as a pedestrian passway. In some places, pagodas were built to drive away evil spirits. In various ways, Chinese people changed the mysterious and untouchable Indian stupas to something practical. Therefore, the Chinese pagoda is a human building.

Number Culture of Pagoda

One of the outstanding characteristics of Chinese pagoda is the pagoda roof. No matter the Dense-eave Pagodas, Pavilion Style Pagodas, or the Fengshui Pagodas, the floors of the pagodas are in an odd number, like one layer, three layers, five layers, or more. It's sporadic to have a pagoda that has an even number of layers in its roof. In contrast, the pagoda level can be in square, hexagon, octagon, or dodecagon. There is no pagoda level with odd-numbered sides. Besides the structural reasons, such design was meant to echo the traditional cosmology of Yin and Yang. Ancient Chinese people granted the numbers with philosophical significance, like the odd numbers represent heaven, and they are Yang, and the even numbers represent the ground, and they are Yin. Heaven is round and high; therefore, odd numbers must be used. While the ground is square and low, even numbers must be used. 

From the perspective of Buddhism interpretation, the four sides of the pagoda symbolize the Four Noble Truths, the six sides represent the Cycle Through the Six Worlds, eight sides symbolize the Eight Phases of Enlightenment, and the twelve sides mean the Twelve-linked Causal Formula. While the odd numbers of layers represent the innocence and sublimity in Buddhism. 

Visit Ten Most Famous Pagodas in China

1.Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian, Shaanxi

The Big Wild Goose Pagoda was first built in 652 AD to store the scriptures brought back by monk Xuan Zang from India. With a height of 64 meters and seven stories, the pagoda is a wood-and-brick structure without cement. Inside the pagoda, there are stairs from which people can climb to the top of the pagoda and have a bird's eye view of the surroundings. There are four stone doors on all sides at the bottom of the pagoda and exquisitely engraved Buddha statues on the door lintels. In contrast, the Dharma Preaching Paintings on the western lintel contain the temple buildings in the Tang Dynasty, which became an essential material for studying architecture at that time. 


2.Yingxian Wooden Pagoda in Shanxi

The Wooden Pagoda in Yingxian, Shanxi, is the oldest and largest wooden pagoda in the world. Built in 1056 (Liao Dynasty), the pagoda is 67.13m in height, 30m in diameter at the bottom, and has five layers and six eaves. The pagoda plane is octagonal. The whole pagoda was applied with 54 different kinds of brackets, which makes it the representative pavilion-style pagoda with the most brackets. These brackets are so firm that the pagoda has stood upright for 900 years and survived multiple times of earthquakes.  


3.Six Harnomious Pagoda in Hangzhou, Zhejiang

Situated in Yuelun Mountain by the Qiantang River in Hangzhou, the Six Harmonious Pagoda is a Song-era pagoda. It's an octagonal pagoda with 59.89m in height. The exterior of the pagoda has 13 floors, while the interior has seven floors. There are stairs inside so people can walk to the pagoda top. The exquisite images of brick carvings on the Sumeru seat like the flying fairies, musicians, sea pomegranates, lotus, phoenixes, lions, unicorns, and cloud patterns are valuable materials in studying the decorations from the Southern Song Dynasty. 


4.Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple in Dali, Yunnan

Located in front of the Chongsheng Temple in Dali, Yunnan, the Three Pagodas are standing in a triangle shape. The big pagoda in the middle is named the Qianxun Pagoda; it's a hollow brick pagoda in dense-eave style. The entire pagoda is 69.13m and has 16 floors. Each floor is carved with stone Buddha statues. The smaller pagodas on both sides of the big pagoda are 42.19m in height, and both of them are 10-layer octagonal solid brick pagodas with a layer of white mudskin on the pagoda body. Inside the pagodas, there are over 600 pieces of relics from Nanzhao (738 - 902) and Dali States (937-1094) Periods. 


5.Iron Tower in Kaifeng, Henan

Formerly known as Kaibao Temple Tower, the Iron Tower is built in 1049 (northern Song Dynasty). It's famous for its outstanding use of traditional wooden structures. The whole tower is 55.88 meters in height and covered with colorful glazed bricks, on which a dozen kinds of patterns and images are carved. Meanwhile, the exterior glazed bricks are all in brown color, and they are very solid. Therefore, people call the tower the Iron Tower. 


6.Tiger Hill Pagoda in Suzhou, Zhejiang

Tiger Hill Pagoda is first built in 601 (Sui Dynasty) and restored in the early Song Dynasty. It's 47.5 meters high, about 6000t in weight. There are seven floors, and the pagoda plane is octangular. Due to the foundation problems, the Tiger Hill Pagoda has been titled northwest for 2°40' degrees since the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). Therefore, the Tiger Hill Pagoda is regarded as the oriental Leaning Tower of Pisa. 


7.Songyue Temple Pagoda

First built in 523 (Northern Wei Dynasty), Songyue Temple Pagoda is the earliest brick pagoda in existence and the only dodecagonal pagoda in China. The pagoda plane is almost circular, and the pagoda body is divided into upper and lower parts, which is very similar to the Indian stupa. Therefore, the Songyue Temple Pagoda is regarded as a representation of the early dense-eave pagoda. The whole pagoda is made from small thin bricks and mud. It’s quite a miracle that the pagoda can stand upright for 1400 years. 


8.Zhenfeng Pagoda in Anqing, Anhui

Standing inside the Yingjiang Temple nearby the Yangtze River, the Zhenfeng Pagoda is built in Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). It's a pavilion-style octagonal pagoda in a masonry structure. The entire pagoda is 60.86m in height, and it has seven floors. It’s said that the pagoda was built to rejuvenate the literary culture in Anqing. Before the Ming Dynasty, there were no famous scholars from Anqing. After observing the geography in Anqing, some astrologists believed that the lack of scholars lies in the nearby Yangtze River. A pagoda must be built to control it and retain scholars. The story itself is absurd; what interesting was that after the building of Zhenfeng Pagoda, some famous ministers and scholars like Fang Yizhi, Zhang Ying, Zhang Tingyu, Zhao Wenkai, and others did emerge in Ming and Qing Dynasties. 


9.Leifeng Pagoda in Hangzhou, Zhejiang

Located on the Xizhao Mountain on the south bank of the West Lake, the Leifeng Pagoda was built by the King Zhongyi of Wuyue State (907-978); his concubine had a son. It's an octagonal pagoda in pavilion style and has five floors. According to the folklore Tale of the White Snake, this pagoda used to contain the Madam White Snake after she was defeated by the monk Fahai until the pagoda fell. Therefore, some people believed that Leifeng Pagoda has the power to control supernatural things. The fact is that the old Leifeng Pagoda collapsed in 1924. The one people see today is a replica of the original pagoda. 


10.Lingguang Pagoda in Changbai, Jilin

Lingguang Pagoda is located on the southwest side of Changbai County, Jilin. Built in Bohai State (698 - 926) of the Tang Dynasty, the pagoda is the oldest brick pagoda in northeast China and a representative relic from Bohai State. The whole pagoda is in pavilion style, and it is 12.86m in height and has five layers. The decorative bricks, the characteristic windows, and the underground palaces are valuable materials for studying the relationship between Bohai State (698-926) and Tang Dynasty (618-907). 


Pagoda Travel with Lilysun China Tours


 2 Days Heritage Tour to Terracotta Warriors and Jingdi's Tomb  6 Days Shanghai -Suzhou - Hangzhou Trip

2 Days Heritage Tour to Terracotta Warriors and Jingdi's Tomb 6 days Shanghai -Suzhou - Hangzhou Trip

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