The original Leifeng Pagoda (雷峰塔) was built by King Qian Chu in 971 during the Five Dynasty and Ten Kingdoms Period, more than one thousand years ago. The King named the pagoda after his beloved concubine, Huang Fei, and hence the pagoda also has an infrequent name of “Huang Fei Pagoda” (黄妃塔). The Leifeng pagoda that we see today is not the original one as the original had collapsed in 1924 due to deterioration and due to people taking the bricks home for their own use.
The pagoda has a poetic name given to it – Leifeng Pagoda in Evening Glow (雷峰夕照), as do all the 10 Scenic Views of West Lake. While we didn’t get to catch the pagoda in sunset, we did manage to catch it glowing at night, mirroring into the lake.
The pagoda is a well known symbol in Chines folklore, in particular, The Legend of the White Snake (白蛇传). In the story, the white snake who is able to take human form falls in love with a mortal man, and her tangled fate resulted in her imprisonment under the Leifeng Pagoda.
At the foot of the pagoda, there’s an escalator that will take you to the main entrance into the underground chamber, where remnants of the original pagoda remains.
This part of the pagoda is the most precious part, with ancient bricks that used to house sacred Buddhism scripts and artifacts. In 2002, the new pagoda was built directly above the ruins, mimicking the old one in terms of size, octagonal shape and structure.
Some parts of the ruins are so fragile that so much external support is needed to main structure.
The miniature Lefeng Pagoda model on display.
A good portion of attention is given to the importance of bricks used in the construction of the pagoda. In the 5 elements of feng shui, metal, wood, water, fire and earth, bricks fall under the category of metal. The bricks from Leifeng Pagoda are thought to play a role in keeping the demons away, maintaining health, sustaining prosperity and aiding in fertility.
The bricks come with various sizes but there’s one type of brick that has a small cylindrical space within the brick that is considered the most precious type because the space was used to store Buddhist scriptures, absorbing all that “qi” of Buddhism, and thought to have additional quality of “peace” within the brick.
I thought these ancient bricks would be under the protection of local authority as important artifacts but surprisingly the bricks are for sale! All the bricks come with a serial number and a certificate from the Zhejiang Institute of Archaeology so I bought one – hopefully it’s an authentic one. I bought the one in the picture, about RM400/USD 140. When I told my father that I bought a brick that used to part of the Leifeng Pagoda, he sniggered at me, obviously not believing in all that feng shui stuff I just mentioned above! Oh well, I guess if you believe in it, then it works.
We started exploring the pagoda from the 5th floor, where you can see panoramic views of West Lake. I wish I could put photos that look better than this one but unfortunately the rain and haziness have blurred a what would have been a beautiful scene. The pagoda itself was pretty gloomy looking too on that day.
All the floors are similar in structure but each with different themes. The fifth floor is the grandest of all with the golden dome, studded with tiny little Buddha statues.
The third floor is a scholarly floor with poems written on panels (bamboo panels I think?) with the Leifeng Pagoda as the subject. I think the poems mimic olden Chinese in terms of calligraphy and language – so I actually can’t make much sense out of the poems 🙁
The first floor is the most interesting, illustrating the love story between the white snake Bai Suzhen(白素贞) and the scholar Xu Xian (许仙). The story is presented in huge wooden panels, with intricate carvings of the story scene by scene. It is also the easiest to follow because it’s the only floor with English explanations.
The story is a romantic one where in one past life, Xu Xian has saved Bai Suzhen when she was still in the form of a snake. When she was powerful enough to take human form, she tactfully set up a scene to get Xu Xian’s attention and he lends her his umbrella. Eventually she marries him to repay his kindness. (Yeah, it’s a weird concept I know. In old Chinese stories, the girls always consider “marriage” as a way to repay or return kindness).
In the meantime, Monk Fahei is after Bai Suzhen for vengeance because she has stolen his elixir in an earlier life. He tells Xu that his wife is a snake and that she will show her true form once she ingests realgar wine. Xu tests his wife and indeed she is unable to maintain her human form and transforms into a giant snake, in the process, shocking Xu to death.
After waking up, Bai Suzhen is devastated by her husband’s death. She flies to heaven to steal “lingzhi” (灵芝), herbal remedy to save her husband and succeeds in bringing Xu back to life.
Unsatisfied that he was unable to break the two apart, Monk Fahai captures Xu and imprisons him in Jinshan Temple (金山寺). Bai Suzhen furious at his act, leads her army, floods Jinshan temple and saves her husband again.
Bai Suzhen gives birth to a child after being reunited with Xu. But by then her powers have weakened and Monk Fahai captures her and imprisons her under Leifeng Pagoda.
The story has many versions as it has been evolving for the past 1000 years. Some stories stop here as a sad ending where Bai Suzhen is imprisoned forever. Whereas in other adaptations, Bai Suzhen’s sister, Xiao Qing later on defeats Fahai, saves Bai Suzhen and the family lives happily ever after.
An important artifact found during the excavation is the Pure Silver King Ashoka Pagoda (a crown-like mini pagoda), with elaborate carvings of Buddha’s stories both on the exterior and interior. Within it, there’s a small golden coffin, safe guarding the Buddha’s hair relic.
the gold & silver coaster.
various kinds of gold & silver belts and more.
And with all that, ends our visit to the Leifeng Pagoda.
Leifeng Pagoda on Wikipedia
Address: 15th Nanshang Road, West Lake Area, Zhejiang Province, China. 浙江省杭州市西湖区南山路15号
Tel: +86 571 8798 2111
Entrance Fee: RMB 40 per person.
Opening Hours: Mar 15 – Nov 15, 8 am – 8.30 pm. Nov 16 – Mar 14, 8am – 5.30pm.