Miaoying Monastery is situated on the north side of Fuchengmennei
Street in the West City District of Beijing.
Whiter Dagoba in the monastery was first built in 1096
of the Liao Dynasty and was considerably expanded and
elaborately redecorated in 1271 during the reign of Emperor
Shizu (Kubla Khan) of the Yuan Dynasty.
A passage from Chats of a Visitor to the Capital (Chang’an
Kehua), written during the Ming Dynasty, describes the
dagoba in these words: “From the corners of the
buildings hang pestle-like jade ornaments. Stone balustrades
line the platform. Beneath the eaves dangle countless
strings of wrought iron flowers. Bells tinkle overhead
in the wind. The golden apex of the dagoba glitters in
the sun. Seen from afar, the lustrous ornaments appear
like a galaxy of stars.” The present-day brilliance
of the dagoba’ s surface is due to the fact that
it is painted with an expensive whitewash containing a
high percentage of pulverized seashells. A local joke
relates that if it were not for this whitewash, the monument
would soon become a “black dagoba.”
In 1279, the monastery was renovated and renamed the Temple
of the Emperor’ s Longevity and Peace (Dasheng Shou’
ansi), but was destroyed by fire 12 years later.
In 1457, a new monastery was built in its place, which
was given the name it retains to this day, the Miaoying
(Divine Retribution) Monastery. At the same time, 108
iron lanterns were installed around the base of the dagoba.
A verse from an early description of the monastery runs
as follows: “The monastery embellishes the capital
with its lofty dagoba rising above the skyline. In the
wee hours of the night, the fragrance of incense drifts
about beneath the lone bright moon.”
The dagoba in the Miaoying Monastery is today the largest
structure of its kind in Beijing. It rises to a height
of 50.9 meters, making it 15 meters taller than the dagoba
in Beihai Park, and has a diameter of oven 30 meters at
its base. Thirteen broad circular bands of molding, called
the “Thirteen Heavens,” divide its surface.
At the apex of the cone is an umbrella-like bronze disc
structure with 36 bronze bells hanging from its rim. At
the very top is a small bronze pagoda, in itself a work
Today the Whiter Dagoba stands as a symbol of cultural
exchange between China and Nepal. In the Yuan Dynasty,
a Nepalese architect named Arnico played an important
role in its design and construction. It is said that while
in China, Arnico helped to build three pagodas: one in
Tibet, another on the Wutai Mountain in Shanxi Province
and the third the White Dagoba in Beijing. For his work,
the Yuan court posthumously conferred on him the title
of “Duke of Lianguo.”
Down through the centuries, many wonderful legends have
been woven around the White Dagoba, the most popular of
which relates to Lu Ban, the “master carpenter”
who lived in the Spring and Autumn Period. It is said
that Lu Ban repaired the dagoba when it cracked by binding
it with seven broad iron hoops. Though impossible to authenticate,
this story attests to a high level of skill in forging
and riveting in early times.
In 1976, the tremors of the Tangshan earthquake caused
serious damage to the monastery buildings. The top of
dagoba tilted to one side, bricks and mortar in the comical
neck supporting the cupola crumbled off, and the main
trunk cracked in several places.
In September 1978, the Beijing Department of Cultural
Relics undertook the work of repair and reinforcement.
The courtyards, the four corner-pavilions, the Hall of
the Buddhas of the Three Ages, the Hall of the Heavenly
Kings (Tianwangdian) in front of the dagoba, the Hall
of the Seven Buddhas and the dagoba itself were repaired
At this time, a number of valuable objects were discovered.
A square box, a round box and two oblong boxes of different
lengths were found in a hidden recess inside the dagoba.
And at its apex a box containing numerous Buddhist scriptures
The square box covered with copper and contains a folded
map wrapped with finely woven multicolored silk threads.
The design of the dagoba appears on both sides of the
The larger oblong box contains calligraphy of Emperor
Qianlong, four silver urns filled with jewelry, rosaries
and coins of the dagoba appears on both sides of the map.
The large oblong box contains calligraphy of Emperor Qianlong,
four silver urns filled with jewelry, rosaries and coins
of different dynasties, bronze images of the Buddhas of
the Three Worlds, a hada (a piece of silk used as a gift
among the Tibetan and Mongol groups) and several pieces
The small box contains only a colorful image of the Goddess
of Mercy (Guanyin) and, at the bottom of the image’s
lotus-flower throne, an alms bowl containing 33 pieces
of shelizi (luminous stones reputed to have been drawn
from the ashes of Buddha’s cremated body). The round
box contains a pentagonal Buddhist headdress and an appliqué
brocade robe, which were encrusted with a total of approximately
1,000 rubies, sapphires and coral beads.