Last updated by chinatravel at 2014/10/27
The White Pagoda, also called Wanbu Huayanjing Pagoda, was built by the Khitans* sometime during the Liao (CE 916-1125) Dynasty (no one seems to know exactly when), and despite its nearly thousand-year history, the pagoda is surprisingly well-preserved. The White Pagoda is a brick-and-wood structure about 55 meters high, with little supporting base extending beyond the octagonal vertical form, making the pagoda seem to rise directly out of the ground, like an obelisk. The pagoda has a fundament, or reinforced lower section, of course, but it conforms to the vertically-tapered dimensions of the rest of the pagoda's above-ground structure. The White Pagoda has been rebuilt on several occasions, including in recent centuries, the only original aspects being a number of inscriptions on the interior walls in Chinese, Khitan (Qidan), Mongolian, and Tibetan. According to historical records, the pagoda was repaired in CE 1167, during the Jin (CE 1115-1234) Dynasty, so we know for a certainty that it was built before then.
The White Pagoda was once the repository of a great number of Buddhist scriptures, therefore the original name of the pagoda, Wanbu Huayanjing Pagoda, which means "Ten Thousand Volumes of Huayan Scripture" Pagoda.** It gets its other name, Bai Ta ("White Pagoda") from its white appearance, both inside and out (mostly the inside appearance). Today the White Pagoda is adorned with a number of Buddhist figures, including a relief of Buddha himself, Bodhisattvas, and Warriors.
The head of a gargoyle-like mythical figure has also been found at the pagoda, and it is believed that the original pagoda was adorned with several ornamental heads of this type, which, in this particular case, seems to be a cross between a dragon and another fantasy creature known as a makura, which is common to India, causing some to speculate that the Khitan version of Buddhism had a very strong link to its country of origin; mainstream Chinese Buddhism had long since become Sinicized.
* The Khitans (Qidans) were a small group, possibly a unique ethnic group, whose heyday occurred during the Liao Dynasty in the north of China, of which dynasty the Khitans made up the majority. They seem to have since been more or less assimilated into other parts of Chinese culture and no longer exist as a separate ethnic group, although some experts believe that the Daur ethnic group of China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region may be direct descendants of the Khitans. The Khitans' most lasting legacy – apart from the few surviving examples of Khitan architecture – lies perhaps in their name, for both the Portuguese, the Russian, and the Spanish words for China all derive from the word "Khitan": Catai (Portuguese); Catay (Spanish); and Kitaii (non-Cyrillic Russian). An archaic English version of the word for China – the version that appears for example in the travel journals of Marco Polo – is a derivative of the word "Khitan" as well: Cathay.
** Note that the Huayan, or Flower Garland, school of Buddhism belongs to the Mahayana Buddhist philosophy which flourished in China especially during the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty rule farther south (there was a time-wise overlap between the Liao and Tang Dynasties). While the Tang Dynasty rulers controlled most of the eastern part of China proper and a large chunk of western China corresponding to Qinghai and Gansu Provinces as well as parts of present-day Tibet and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regions, with a narrow corridor linking them, the Mongolians held most of the arid region to the north while the Khitans controlled the coastal areas north of China, comprising mainly Manchuria, as well as a swath of land between China and Mongolia that included parts of present-day Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The Buddhism of the Khitans was based on the Sanskrit Flower Garland Sutra, whose Chinese interpretation was the Huayan Lun.
Solo Adventure Tips:
It is situated in White Pagoda Village, 17 kilometers east of Hohhot.
How to Get There?
Ticket Price: The price of the general admission is 5 yuan, while it will cost you an additional 5 yuan if you wish to ascend the pagoda's interior, spiral staircase.
The price of the general admission is 5 yuan, while it will cost you an additional 5 yuan if you wish to ascend the pagoda's interior, spiral staircase.
The the best time of year to visit this, the most exquisite Buddhist pagoda of the Liao Dynasty period, is from June to September.
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