Leifeng Pagoda is a five story tall tower with eight sides, located on Sunset Hill south of West Lake in Hangzhou. Originally constructed in the year AD 975, it collapsed in 1924 but was rebuilt in 2002, since then it has been a popular tourist attraction.
Leifeng Pagoda was an octagonal, five-storied structure built of brick and wood. The body of the pagoda was made of brick, but the eaves, balconies, inside landings and balustrades were made of wood. Stones with the Huayan Scriptures inscribed on them were inlaid on the inner walls of the pagoda. There used to be sixteen sculptures of vajra arhats at the foot of the pagoda, but they were later moved to Jingci Temple.
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. The Leifeng Pagoda was an octagonal, five-story structure built of brick and wood and with a base built out of bricks.
During the Ming dynasty, Japanese pirates attacked Hangzhou. Suspecting the pagoda contained weapons, they burned its wooden elements, leaving only the brick skeleton, as can be seen from Ming paintings of the West Lake.
Leifeng Pagoda was one of the ten sights of the West Lake because of the Legend of the White Snake. Later, due to a superstition that the 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.
As for whether there was a mausoleum below, this was debated for years until finally radar was used to investigate. On March 11, 2001 the mausoleum was excavated and many artifacts were found, most notably a gold and silver coated hair of the Buddha.
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 fetus 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.
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.