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Leifeng Pagoda is currently a five story tall tower which has eight sides and is located on Sunset Hill along the south route of the West Lake in Hangzhou which was originally constructed in the year AD 975. It has been a popular tourist attraction since being rebuilt in 2002.
The original pagoda was built in 975 AD, during Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, at the order of King Qian Chu (born Qian Hongchu) of Wuyue. It was built to celebrate the birth of Qian Chu's son, born to Huang Fei, one of his favorite concubines. The Leifeng Pagoda was an octagonal, five-storeyed structure built of brick and wood and with a base built out of bricks.
The pagoda became a household name in China thanks to the popular folk tale, "The Legend of the White Snake", a touching love story about a girl who changed into a snake and a young man. The story has been repeatedly adapted for traditional operas and also for modern movies and TV series.
In the story, the couple are separated by an evil old monk with magical powers, who had the snake girl imprisoned under the Leifeng Pagoda for years. She is finally rescued by her son who caused the collapse of the pagoda.
In real life, the pagoda also had a sad history. During the Yuan Dynasty it was a magnificent building "of ten thousand chi" standing "aloft as if in midair." It suffered a most severe disaster during the Ming Dynasty. During the Jiaqing years (1522-66) Japanese invaders set fire to the pagoda and burned the coves, balconies, balustrades and steeple to ashes, leaving only a brick skeleton. Later some superstitious and ignorant people often took bricks from the pagoda in the belief that the abrasive powder of the bricks was a magic remedy that could cure all diseases and keep a foetus from aborting. Others stole Buddhist scriptures from the pagoda in order to make money. Finally, in August 1924 the foot of the pagoda was dug hollow and other parts of the pagoda were so severely damaged that the ancient pagoda suddenly collapsed.
During the Ming dynasty, Japanese pirates attacked Hangzhou. Suspecting it contained weapons, they burned its wooden elements, leaving only the brick skeleton, as can be seen from Ming paintings of the West Lake.
Later, due to a superstition that bricks from the tower could repel illness or prevent miscarriage, many people stole bricks from the tower to grind into powder. On the afternoon of September 25, 1924, the pagoda finally collapsed due to disrepair.
Lu Xun (1881--1936), one of the most prestigious figures in contemporary Chinese literature, wrote an article declaring the collapse of the Leifeng Pagoda was a major blow to the feudalistic social order that had ruled China for thousands of years. The article was later included in a textbook for Chinese students.
Chinese experts have long debated whether or not the Leifeng Pagoda should be rebuilt. A strong argument for the pagoda's rebuilding was that it had great archaeological value and was also an ancient architectural masterpiece.
Originally of Buddhist architecture, the Leifeng Pagoda was said to have once housed the hair and skeletal remains of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism. In March of 2001, a number of ancient Buddhist relics were unearthed from the underground chamber of the pagoda.
In October 1999, a special committee was organized to study academic papers and correlated materials to prepare for reconstruction of the tower. After careful study, the committee chose to set up a steel structure similar to the old tower over at the original site of pagoda. The new one is designed to be a five-storied pavilion inlaid with brick and upturned eaves.
Located on the shores of the southeast side of the lake and originally built in the year 977, all that remains of the original pagoda is the crumbling foundation, viewable from outside the glass case that it is housed in (Pagoda Remains Memorial Museum at the bottom floor of the pagoda). With escalators, elevators, and a totally new pagoda places on top of the foundation, there is not much to see within the pagoda itself; it was most recently rebuilt in 2000. However, the view of the city skyline is one of the best from here, and some of the smaller seating areas around the perimeter of the pagoda have a nice breeze and view of the structure. One of the 10 Scenes of the West Lake is "Leifeng Pagoda in Evening Glow", but this is best viewed from a distance (across the lake) just after sunset. Keep in mind that the entry fee for the Leifeng Pagoda is very expensive and it's not original, just rebuilt, so if your budget is not that huge, consider to not enter the Pagoda. You can still take pictures in front of it.
Leifeng Pagoda was one of the ten sights of the West Lake because of the Legend of the White Snake. A moving love story is contained in the Leifeng Pagoda history. The story tells of a young scholar who falls in love with a beautiful woman, unaware that she is a white snake who has taken on human form. A monk intervenes in order to save the scholar’s soul and casts the white snake into a deep well at the Leifeng Pagoda. Over centuries the story has evolved from horror story to romance with the scholar and the white snake-woman genuinely in love with one another, but such a relationship is forbidden by the laws of Heaven. The legend was existed as oral traditions long before any written compilation. It has since become a major subject of several Chinese opera, films and TV series.
However, the view of the city skyline is one of the best from Leifeng Pagoda, and some of the smaller seating areas around the perimeter of the pagoda have a nice breeze and view of the structure. One of the 10 Scenes of the West Lake is "Leifeng Pagoda in Evening Glow", but this is best viewed from a distance (across the lake) just after sunset.