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A Leaning Pagoda in China

12 September 2009
 

There are countless pagodas in China. While many stand firm for hundreds even thousands of years, numerous collapsed. Then, there are a few that stand not so firmly but began to tilt, and even have tilted for centuries, yet still refuse to surrender to the power of gravity. One of such heroic towers situates in the middle of the White Tower Hill in the Sutra Hall Village in Chongqing (重庆荣昌县河包镇经堂村).

The pagoda is kwon as part of a Buddhist monastery initially erected in 1132 during the great Song Dynasty, and built centuries later than the main buildings in the premises for a purpose to preserve the ash remains of an eminent monk from the monastery, but no one knows since when the entire structure began to tilt. Right now the pagoda leans at 30 degrees, comparing to the leaning tower of Pisa with just 5.5 degrees of obliquity. Of course, the Pisa Tower in Italy stands over 55m tall, while pagoda in Chongqing is only one sixth of its height at a moderate 9.5m.

The whole structure of the pagoda is in octagon shape with 11 layers in total, each made of a single block of stone, with eight sitting Buddha statues caved in stones facing eight directions. It can also be vertically divided into five parts: the basement floor where the ash remains of the monk is stored, the foundation, the main body of the tower, the eve and the summit.

According to the recollections of the elderly in the village, the area went through several earthquakes in the recent decades, and during the 1960s, a mountain torrent destroyed over 50 percent of the buildings in the hill, yet the leaning pagoda survived the ordeal without a scratch.

In face of constant assault by the natural elements and with total absence of building maintenance, what has helped the pagoda to hold itself intact over the centuries?

Some local historians claim an unique paste material, mixed with glutinous rice gruel, lime and sands, widely used in the ancient China, has contributed to its survival.

But the villagers prefer to believe that the answer must lay in the sacred remains, and assert that it is the invisible power of the enlightened spirit that makes the structure unassailable.

Maybe both explanations have some truth in the reality, which demonstrate that the external conditions may play a role, but internal strength is the key to the endurance. Further, its slant posture also proves that it is okay to tilt, as long as to the right direction.

以妥协求和谐则和谐亡
以姑息求稳定则稳定失

(Source of info/photo: 周圆 , 张芷韩 , 任洁 - 重庆晚报)

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