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Leifeng Pagoda (Leifeng ta 雷峰塔) Heatherly, Bryce


The Leifeng Pagoda was constructed between 971 and 977 under Qian Chu 錢俶 (r. 948-978), then-ruler of the state of Wuyue 吳越, on the shores of West Lake in Hangzhou (present-day Zhejiang province). In its original construction, the pagoda was a seven-story, octagonal structure with an interior core of brick and exterior corridors and double eaves made of wood. Beneath the structure, an underground chamber was built to house the relics of “locks of the Buddha’s hair” (Fo luokuo fa 佛螺髺髮). After sustaining damage, the Leifeng pagoda was reconstructed during the Qingyuan 慶元 era (1195-1200) of the Southern Song dynasty, when it was reduced to a five-story structure. During this time, the pagoda also gained its literary status as one of the “famous sites of Hangzhou,” under the title “Rays of Sunset at Leifeng” (雷峰夕照). During the Jiajing 嘉靖 era (1522-1566) of the Ming dynasty, the wooden exterior of the pagoda was burned away, and its silhouette became known to visitors by its exposed brick core. Throughout this period and thereafter, the pagoda became known not primarily as a Wu-Yue pagoda, but for its association with “The White Snake Legend” (白蛇傳), in which it served as the site where the “White Maiden” (白娘子) was locked away. In 1924, the brick core of the pagoda finally collapsed. The site remained in a state of ruin until March, 2000, when the two-year archaeological excavation of the site began. Undisturbed upon excavation, the pagoda’s underground chamber was found to contain fifty-one objects, including nested reliquaries, Buddhist sculptures, a gilded silver belt, jewelry, jade and glass objects, coins, mirrors, and Buddhist texts. It is believed that, in the upper part of the pagoda, an additional chamber was built to house another set of reliquaries and objects. In some parts of the pagoda body, hollow bricks were used in construction. Many of these bricks originally housed printed scrolls of the "Dhāranī Sūtra of the Seal on the Casket" (寶篋印陀羅尼 經), many of which were collected when the pagoda collapsed in 1924. The current pagoda building at the site of Leifeng, completed in 2002, is a five-story, octagonal pagoda reconstructed to resemble the Southern Song structure.

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