Big Wild Goose Pagoda
A Dream Place of Tang Dynasty Scholars
The Big Wild Goose Pagoda stands on the earth of Xian for over 1,300 years is a place for us to witness ancient Chinese culture from the golden days of Tang Dynasty – one of the strongest empires ever in China history. It has long been the hallmark of Xian and a place where we are proud to show to foreign rulers and friends.
Located at the centre of Xian, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, Drum Tower and Bell Tower are all built inside the Buddhist Temple of Grace. You would never visit one and miss the rest.
Among them all, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is the major point of interest. There are two well kept Buddhist pagodas from Tang Dynasty, both in Xian and both in the same name. They are therefore called the Big and Small in terms of their size. Between them, the Big one is more famous and attracts more visitors.
History and Overview
The Big Wild Goose Pagoda was built in 652 inside the Buddhist Temple of Grace in Xian, the capital city of Tang Dynasty. The Buddhist Temple of Grace was built by King Gaozong in memory of his late mother Empress Wende.
The great Chinese monk Xuanzhuang requested to build a pagoda inside the Temple to keep all the Buddhist sutras that he brought in from India. He then became the first Chief of the Temple. The temple became a place for keeping Buddhist scriptures that he translated from Sanskrit.
The Pagoda was built on an almost square base of 25 meters on each side and was about 64 meters tall. Its design was based on ancient Indian wild goose pagoda (stupa) and was therefore called the Wild Goose Pagoda.
The Pagoda was a combination of Indian design and Chinese architectural techniques. It was built of brick however imitated the traditional Chinese wood construction method. It was a typical artistic religious architecture.
When you visit the Buddhist Temple of Grace, you have an option of paying an extra ¥20 to go in and up the Pagoda. If you are on a package tour, check if this is inclusive. As far as I know, some tour leaders won’t let you go inside the Pagoda. If that’s the case, you might miss the essence of the tour.
Points of Interest
The entire Pagoda is valuable to the studies of Tang Dynasty religion, architecture, carving, painting, calligraphy and so on. Together with the succinct design of the building, it was actually an artistic architectural masterpiece of Tang Dynasty. It is a place you must experience personally.
Level One - Entrance level
At top of the stone doors, there are beautiful line carvings of the Buddha. At the south entrance, there are two steles bearing essays authored by King Taizong and Gaozong of Tang Dynasty, both scripts by one of the greatest Tang Dynasty calligrapher Chu Suiliang.
On the south entrance of level two, there are autographs from Ming Dynasty. I’ll talk about the custom of Wild Goose Pagoda autographs later in this chapter.
There are four long posters bearing essays authored by King Taizong and Gaozong of Tang Dynasty.
You can also see a photo exhibition showing Buddhist pagodas in China, explaining their originations, developments, constructions and designs.
There is a Bronze statue of the Buddha coated in gold. This is one of the most valuable items in the Pagoda. Every visitor must bow at the Buddha.
On the walls, apart from the picture of the Buddha, there are calligraphies and poems mainly by famous scholars from Tang Dynasty.
There is a model of the Pagoda in the ratio of 1:60 on a wooden stand at the centre.
Partial body remains of the Buddha (佛舍利) donated by senior Indian monk is kept inside. This is another extremely valuable item of the Wild Goose Pagoda.
There is a stele in shape of Buddha’s foot print with religious patterns of Buddhism. A lot of people consider seeing the footprint to be seeing the Buddha.
There are exhibits of poems from five most outstanding Tang Dynasty poets. They once joined hand in hand to visit the Pagoda and created poems while tasting wine. It was one of the most admirable activities in Tang Dynasty.
From the arc-shape windows, you can have a panoramic view of Xian.
On the lotus-shape ceiling, there are 14 characters which make up a poem by reading in different ways.
On the wall, there hangs Xuanzhuang’s writing which tells stories about how ancient Indians built religious pagodas.
Drum Tower and Bell Tower
Once you enter the Buddhist Temple of Grace, you will see the Drum Tower and Bell Tower facing each other.
The Bell Tower hangs an iron bell from Ming Dynasty. It weights over 30,000 Chinese catties and measures over three meters tall. (1 Chinese catty = 1.33 pound = 600 grams.)
Every Chinese knows the proverb ‘morning bell, evening drum’. It is actually a practice of Buddhist temples of ringing the bell in the morning and striking the drum in the evening. Both are done to remind their followers to review and strengthen themselves.
Wild Goose Pagoda Autographs
Having your autograph at the Wild Goose Pagoda denotes you have obtained a Jinshi Degree. Why?
You can’t visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda without knowing this.
A Jinshi Degree in Tang Dynasty – somewhat like a Doctorate Degree of nowadays
Ancient Chinese referred two things in life to be the happiest. Number one was autographing at the Wild Goose Pagoda, number two was getting married.
It was obvious that a wedding was something happy. What about autographing? Why was it even on top of a wedding? Well, we need to know ancient Chinese culture a bit in depth.
Scholars in ancient China had the highest social ranking. Being a government officer serving the king directly was something every scholar looking forward to. That proved their ability and brought fame and wealth to their family.
Sitting for examinations was the only way of achieving what they wanted. Scholars had to pass examinations at their home town before sitting the provincial examination. They had to pass in both before qualifying as a candidate for the imperial examination.
The imperial examination was held once every three years in the capital city. Those who got a pass will be crowned a Jinshi Degree. It was an extremely difficult process. Tens of thousands of scholars from all over the country had only a quota of less than 100 to be given the Jinshi Degree. Once failed, they’ll have to wait for three years and few people got a pass at their first attempt. Those who obtained a Jinshi Degree before 30 were extremely outstanding.
Bai Juyi, the famous Tang poet, got a pass at his first attempt at the age of 27. He proudly wrote this: “At the autograph place of Wild Goose Pagoda, I am the youngest among 17".
Autographing at the Wild Goose Pagoda
The custom of Qu River Banquet followed by autographing at the Wild Goose Pagoda were extremely popular in Tang Dynasty. Something the new Jinshis felt extremely proud of doing and something extremely admired by anybody.
At the banquet on board of Qu River, a lot of senior government officers came to look for son-in-law candidates. In many cases, young and handsome Jinshis being picked will soon have their weddings. The two happiest things in life hence happened at similar time.
Jinshis came do their autographs when they started their imperial career. Later in their life, they might become a prime minister or a commander general. Their autographs at the Pagoda will become extremely valuable and would be framed.
Autographing at the Wild Goose Pagoda hence had an extended meaning of obtaining a Jinshi Degree, something that every Tang Dynasty scholar longing for.
Unfortunately, due to human and natural disasters, most of the Tang Dynasty autographs were damaged. What we can see nowadays are from Ming and Qing Dynasty.
Surrounding the Wild Goose Pagoda is a Cultural Square. You'll find all buildings in this area has a Tang Dynasty look, even the KFC. There is a grand music fountain which has a music show nightly at around 8pm. It would be good to go early as this show is free and is very impressive. It can attract as many as 100,000 people in summer.
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