The Twin Pagodas in Quanzhou rank the highest pair among Chinas stone pagodas. The west pagoda is called Renshou and the east one, Zhenguo. They stand on each side of the main hall of Kaiyuan Temple, some two hundred meters from each other.
Renshou Pagoda was originally a wooden structure constructed in 916 during the Five Dynasties. After it burnt down twice during the Song Dynasty, the pagoda was rebuilt, first of brick, then of stone. Its appearance and structure are basically the same as those of Zhenguo Pagoda, but it is only 44.6 meters high, or 4.18 meters lower, and was built ten years earlier.
The history of the construction of Zhenguo Pagoda is described in Quan Zhou Fu zhi (Records of Quanzhou Prefedure) and Shuang Ta Ji Lue (A Brief History of the Twin Pagoda), written by Jiang Dejing. Jiang said in his book, "Zhenguo Pagoda was a nine-storey wooden structure erected during the Xiantong period (860-873) of the Tang Dynasty and destroyed in 1155. Monk Liaoxing had it rebuilt in 1186, only to have it demolished again in 1227. In 1238 Monk Bengong built it again, of stone." A study of the various part of the present pagoda found nothing contradictory to the description.
Zhenguo Pagoda is 48.24 meters high with a diameter of 18.5 meters; each side is 7.8 meters wide. The Sumeru pedestal is fairly low and carved with a tier of lotus flowers and another tier of grasses. Sculptured on each of its eight corners is a celestial guard shouldering the pedestal. The girdle of the pedestal is inscribed with thirty-nine pictures, including tales about the Buddha and images of lions, dragons and other animals. The pedestal is enclosed by stone railings and five steps are cut on each of its four sides.
Each storey of the pagoda is formed by outer walls, verandas, internal winding corridors and a central pillar. There are doors on four sides and niches for Buddhist statues on the others. Carved on both sides of the doors are images of heavenly kings and celestial guards. On both sides of the niches are vivid images of Manjusri, Samantabhadra and other bodhisattvas, gods and Buddhist disciples, some of them, with three heads and six arms, carry the sun and moon on their palms while others carry calabashes or sceptres. The corners of each storey are cylindrical, something rarely seen in ancient architecture. Each storey has a veranda so that visitors can enjoy the view. Most ancient pagodas in northern China have purely ornamental railings.
The internal structure of these two pagodas is different from other pagodas with winding or vertical staircases. The staircases in these two pagodas were not built along the walls or the central pillars, but, in faithful imitation of wooden pagodas, installed through a square hole on one side of the central pillar, which is solid and contains no compartments. There are niches on the sides facing the doors for statues of Buddha. The central pillar is connected to the outside walls by the flooring of the internal corridors. The flooring is formed by two layers of slabetone with a facing of stone strips and supported by stone beams.
The iron steeples of the Twin Pagodas are typical in style for multistoreyed pagodas, lofty and graceful. They are connected firmly by iron chains to the roof corners of the pagodas.