Located inside Fucheng Gate in Beijing, the temple was built in 1096 during the Liao Dynasty. According to historical accounts, the first pagoda, built during the Liao Dynasty, contained Buddhist relics, rosaries, little stupas made of fragrant clay, Dharani scriptures, and other objects. In 1271 the pagoda was destroyed by Emperor Shizu of the Yuan Dynasty and a new Lamaist dagoba on a much larger scale was erected. That is the present White Dagoba, so called because of the white lime painted on the building's exterior.
According to historical accounts, the White Dagoba at Miaoying Temple was designed and built by a Nepalese architect named Anika. Previously, dagobas of this style were rare in China. It was both a Lamaist dagoba and a representative of earliest Buddhist stupas. At 50.9 meters high, it is the largest and one of the oldest dagobas of its kind extant in China.
The dagoba is composed of three major parts: a Sumeru pedestal-style platform, an inverted-bowl-shaped body and a steeple with thirteen discs. The platform has three levels, the upper two levels forming a Sumeru pedestal whose plane looks like the character 亞 . Columns at the corners clearly demarcate the dagoba's outlines. In recent years repairmen have found that the upper level of the platform was supported by huge logs inside the structure. Functioning like reinforcing bars in concrete buildings, they reinforce the brick-and-stone bearing. The pedestal has carved patterns of lotus petals, built of brick and coated with lime, forming a huge lotus support for the superstructure. The body of the dagoba is shaped like an inverted alms bowl; it also looks like a gigantic bottle, sturdy and steady. The base of the steeple is also in亞shape, like a house with wings extending in four directions. The cone-shaped body of the steeple stands firm and is decorated with thirteen discs made of stacked bricks, also called thirteen skies. On top of the thirteen-tier steeple is a big canopy made of bronze. Small statues of Buddha, bells and other ornaments hang around the edges of the canopy, making it look like a gigantic umbrella with a tassel fringe.
Unlike most dagobas which have a crescent moon or a precious bead on top of their spires, this dagoba has a small bronze Lamaist dagoba mounted on the steeple's canopy for its spire, putting the symbol of the Buddhist faith in the highest position. This particular small dagoba on top of the White Dagoba has an inscription from the Yuan Dynasty, serving as important evidence in the study of the dagoba's history.
In 1979 when the White Dagoba at Miaoying Temple was being repaired, the small bronze Lamaist dagoba at the top was opened. It was discovered that the metal components of the small dagoba were linked by a wooden post. People also found monks' caps and robes, Buddhist scriptures and other cultural relics bestowed by Emperor Qianglong in the dagoba.
Under the canopy of the dagoba bricklayers' chisels and trowels were found hanging. They had been left by repairmen many years before.