Cul­tural Relics of Leifeng Pagoda


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This ex­hi­bi­tion marks the de­but dis­play of Hangzhou’s Leifeng Pagoda’s cul­tural trea­sures since the pagoda col­lapsed 90 years ago. Peo­ple can now visit a re­con­struc­tion of the col­lapsed struc­ture which was com­pleted back in 2002. The orig­i­nal pagoda was built in the year 975 AD dur­ing the Five Dy­nas­ties and Ten King­doms pe­riod of China, at the or­der of King Wuyue to cel­e­brate the birth of his son. The Leifeng Pagoda was an oc­tag­o­nal, five­storey struc­ture built from brick and wood and with a base built out of bricks. One of the ‘top 10 at­trac­tions of the West Lake’, the pagoda is mostly known for its con­nec­tion with the Leg­end of the White Snake. Dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty, "Wokou" Ja­panese pi­rates at­tacked Hangzhou. Un­der the im­pres­sion that the pagoda con­tained weapons, they burned its wooden el­e­ments, leav­ing only the brick skele­ton, as can be seen from some Ming paint­ings of the West Lake. Due to su­per­sti­tion - lo­cals be­lieved that the bricks could re­pel ill­ness or pre­vent mis­car­riage - many peo­ple stole bricks from the tower to grind into pow­der, with­out know­ing many of the bricks were de­signed to store Bud­dhist scrip­tures. When the pagoda fi­nally top­pled down on the af­ter­noon of Septem­ber 25, 1924, due to dis­re­pair, China’s most cel­e­brated Dreams of Red Man­sion ex­pert Yu Pingbo was play­ing chess with a monk friend in a build­ing just across from the ruin. Im­me­di­ately, waves of peo­ple rushed to the site to mourn the leg­endary pagoda’s col­lapse and to plun­der fallen bricks. The de­bris was left unat­tended for al­most 80 years un­til 2002, when arche­ol­o­gists launched a new round of ex­ca­va­tion en­deav­ours de­signed to do the cul­tural trea­sure jus­tice. The un­der­ground palace that was blocked by a huge boul­der turned out to be a trea­sure house of ex­quis­ite jade and bronze arte­facts. One of the big­gest find­ings is a bronze Sakya­muni (the founder of Bud­dhism) statue made dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty. No one knows ex­actly how many trea­sures the last king of the Wu and the Yue King­dom stashed in­side the pagoda 1,000 years ago, and most Hangzhou­vians still choose to be­lieve that the White Snake is still un­der house ar­rest, as or­dered by Fa­hai, in­side the pagoda’s base. Arche­o­log­i­cal val­ues aside, the pagoda sym­bol­ises the choice that hu­mans must make be­tween reck­less love and obe­di­ence to so­cial norms and, for the Hangzhounese, the un­solved puz­zle of whether or not the fair lady ‘White Snake’ is still there con­sti­tutes the most en­chant­ing part of the pagoda’s con­sid­er­able charm, no mat­ter how much it has changed out­side over the cen­turies.

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