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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Tongzhou's ancient... or not-so-ancient... pagoda

It’s Beijing’s oldest pagoda, built around 1,300 years ago, says visitbeijing.com. No it isn’t. It was built 1,200 years ago, according to china.org. Oh no, make that 1,000 years ago (chinaculturecenter.org – but then when they ask if you “Want a Regualr Group Tour?” for a “Bepoke Price” it’s probably difficult to take anything they write as gospel!). Wikipedia tells us it was actually built in 1696.

Are we talking about the same pagoda I wonder?

Wikipedia tells us it is The Randeng Pagoda. No, no… it’s the Dipamkara Pagoda, according to travelchinaguide.com; while china.org has it called the Burning Lamp Buddhist Relic Pagoda, adding helpfully that it is also known as Tongzhou Pagoda.

The funny thing is they all look the same in the photographs shown.

So your favourite blogger thought it was about time he went to find out – unlike the majority of the copy-n-paste brigade in the blogosphere who obviously have never set foot anywhere near the structure!

The easiest way to get there is to take Subway Line 6 to Tongzhou Beiguan whence it is a 15 minute stroll going due south. Once you get to the bridge crossing the Tonghui River, you can’t miss it ahead of you on your left…

Just keep on following the road once you’re across the bridge, taking every available left turn and you will soon find you’ve arrived at the You Sheng Jiao temple. It’s quite a pretty temple, by the way…

A Confucian sculpture welcomes you in to the inner courtyard, and there you will see the pagoda peeping out at you from behind the main building in the temple.

To the left is a small building with a number of posters on the walls showing what the place used to look like in days gone by.

But it’s the main building, which is probably the only one worth going into. Nothing, by the way, is written in English, and it’s pretty apparent that foreigners are a rare sight in this part of the world.

The ceiling is a definite hit in my book. Probably the best thing in the entire structure.

But there are also two sets of bells hanging in frames that are worthy of inspection.

Behind the main structure is a cute circular gate going through the rear wall to a little temple room where the devout can pray.

And just to the left is where you can get the best view of the pagoda itself which, unfortunately, is closed off to visitors.

The pagoda is an octagonal, thirteen-storey brick and wooden structure, measuring 53 metres (or 49 metres, if we are to believe visitbeijing.com) in height. Every corner of the pagoda is decorated with a Buddha sculpture, meaning that there is a total of 104 Buddha sculptures within it.

china.org tells us that “It’s a typical example of multi-eaved pagodas of the Liao and Kin dynasties. The base of the pagoda is a Sumeru pedestal, decorated with exquisitely carved patterns of human figures mid flowers. The first storey is particularly tall, with a door on the east, south, west and north sides. The southern door, two meters deep, used to contain a statue of Buddha. The other three doors are purely ornamental. False windows decorate the other four sides of the first storey. Beyond the first storey there are thirteen levels of closely structured eaves. The brackets under the eaves are made of brick, but the rafters are wood — a fashion followed during the Liao and Kin dynasties. The spire at the top of the pagoda is made of metal. The whole pagoda’s sculpt is powerful and strong. Echoing to Tianning pagoda in west of Beijing, both of them are important relics of the Liao and Kin dynasties in Beijing.”

The reason it is called the Randeng Pagoda, according to china.org is that “It used to be a stone sculpture of Randeng Buddha that enshrined within the pagoda”.

visitbeijing.com puts us right on that point: “The Dipamkara Pagoda is also known as the Buddhist Relics Pagoda of Dipamkara because it contains Buddhist relics of Dipamkara, the Buddha of the past. The Pagoda was first built in the Liao Dynasty (907-1125), and restored in the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties and also after the Tangshan Earthquake. The thirteen-storey octagonal pagoda is made of bricks and wood. It consists of a base, a body and a top, with a height of 56 metres” [oh, not 53 or 49?]. “As the highest pagoda in Beijing, since the Ming Dynasty, the Dipamkara Pagoda has been listed as the first of the ‘Top Eight Scenes in Tongzhou’.

Well, that’s nice.

And as an added bonus, the plaque within the temple – probably the only one in English in the entire area – tells us that it is in fact called the Dipamkar Pagoda!

Anyway, it turns out the original structure was destroyed in 1679 during the reign of Emperor Kangxi following an earthquake. After that, the Emperor had it reconstructed in 1691 but the temple was once again destroyed by the European Alliance Forces in 1900. In 1976, the aftershock of the earthquake at Tangshan caused the basement platform to be partially destroyed and many corners of the tower were cracked. Eventually, the Beijing government restored it to its original look in 1985, though from the look of things there is still work in progress .

So there we have it. Unless you are a keen aficionado of pagodas, you may not feel it is worth the long trek from the centre of Beijing just to see this; but if you are in the area it would be a shame to give it a miss.