Hangzhou Leifeng Pagoda
The Newly-Built Leifeng Pagoda In Hangzhou.
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An ancient underground palace was exhumed on March 11, 2001 on top of Leifeng Mountain near the West Lake in Hangzhou. The underground palace lies about 2.6 meters below the foundation of Leifeng Pagoda. A stone tablet covering the entrance of the underground palace was exposed after a huge stone weighing more than 760 kilograms was lifted away. Once the tablet was removed, the shaft-like underground palace was revealed. A Buddhist statue, several bronze mirrors, dozens of coins, a rusty iron case believed to contain Buddhist relics and other items of historical and cultural value were found at the initial uncovering of the palace. According to an inscription on a stone tablet uncovered early 2001, the iron case in the underground palace contains the hair of Sakyamuni, founder of Buddhism. An archaeological team under the Cultural Relics Archaeological Study Institute of Zhejiang Province conducted the excavation of the underground palace.
Construction of the original Leifeng Pagoda began in 972 and was completed in 976 during the early Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). On September 25, 1924, the Pagoda collapsed due to long-term neglect and damage inflicted by superstitious residents who removed bricks from the base as it was believed they would bring luck and great fortune to those who owned a piece of pagoda. However, they hardly reached the underground palace. Hangzhou municipal government decided to restore the Pagoda in October 1999 following decades of debate about the future of the site. A restoration plan proposed by Guo Daiheng, an architect from Qinghua University, was approved. The rebuilding of the Pagoda signifies the restoration of one of the five most important scenic spots of West Lake. The pagoda’s history has been recorded in a well-known Chinese legend, the “White Snake.” During the reconstruction of Leifeng Pagoda, 280 tons of copper were used. All the copper carving was done by Zhu Bingren朱炳仁, reputed as king of copper carving被誉为铜雕之王. In late October 2002, a ceremony was held to mark the occasion by the Provincial government and the municipal government in the city known for its scenic West Lake, one of the major tourism attractions in Zhejiang Province. China boasts 3,421 pagodas of various types.
An iron case excavated from a pit underneath the Leifeng Pagoda in Hangzhou was opened in the lab of Zhejiang Provincial Museum on March 14, 2001. At the bottom of the case, there was a layer of carbonized silk fabric. On top of the silk fabric lay a square bronze mirror with silk ribbons tied to the end of its handle. A gilded silver box, 14 centimeters in height rested on top of the mirror. Inscriptions and fine decorations covered the lid of the box. The fact that the inside of the box was wet indicated that the iron case had once been immersed in water. The experts surmised that there had been heavy rain during the construction of the underground palace. The box was found bound in a leather belt with copper decorations. Although the leather had rotted away, the buckle of the belt was in amazingly good condition. Inside the box was a gilded silver mini-pagoda. The Pagoda is 35 centimeters in height. The base of the pagoda, 12.6 centimeter-square, is slightly rusty due to the moisture inside the box. Relief sculptures around the sides of the Pagoda record the story of Sakyamuni, founder of Buddhism. Experts believe that it contains the hair of Sakyamuni. The iron case, weighing more than 100 kilograms, was lifted from the underground pit and immediately moved to a lab in Zhejiang Provincial Museum at midnight on March 12, 2001. Because it had been buried underground for more than one thousand years and continuously soaked in water, the iron case was covered with a heavy coating of rust. Archaeologists thought the rusty case might be very fragile. Therefore, they were extremely cautious when opening it. The Leifeng Pagoda stands eternally on Leifeng Mountain near the well known West Lake in Hangzhou.
The Leifeng Pagoda is almost a household name in China thanks to the popular folk tale, “The Legend of the White Snake,” a touching love story about a snake girl and a young man. Reconstruction was undertaken because, in addition to its status as a literary icon, the Pagoda has great archaeological value and is an ancient architectural masterpiece. Built in the Buddhist architectural style, the Leifeng Pagoda was said to have once housed the hair and skeletal remains of Sakyamuni, founder of Buddhism. For the local government, the reason for rebuilding lies in the restored pagoda’s tourism potential. The Leifeng Pagoda is one of the top-10 sights around the West Lake and a must-see for tourists from home and abroad. With a total cost of 150 million yuan (US $ 18 million), the reconstruction project started in May 2001. The rebuilt Pagoda has strictly adhered to the style and appearance of the original one, and is 70.7 meters, or five-storey high. It was opened to the public on September 25, 2002, the 78th anniversary of its collapse.