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Thousand-year-old Pagoda Being Rebuilt
Workers in Hangzhou, capital of east China's Zhejiang Province, have almost completed the reconstruction of a thousand-year-old pagoda with national fame, which collapsed 78 years ago.

The pagoda is expected to be open to the public on September 25 this year, the anniversary of its collapse, local authorities announced.

The Leifeng Pagoda, first built in 976 AD on the south bank of the world famous West Lake, is almost a household name in China thanks to the popular folk tale, The Legend of the White Snake, a touching love story about a girl who changed into a snake and a young man. The story has been repeatedly adapted for traditional operas and also for modern movies and TV series.

In the story, the couple are separated by an evil old monk with magical power, who had the snake girl imprisoned under the Leifeng Pagoda for years. She is finally rescued by her son who caused the collapse of the pagoda.

In real life, the pagoda collapsed in 1924 after years of repeated lightning strikes, war damages and frequent theft of its bricks by superstitious people who believed the bricks had magic powers.

Lu Xun (1881--1936), the most prestigious figure in contemporary Chinese literature, wrote an article declaring the collapse of the Leifeng Pagoda was a major blow to the feudalistic social order that had ruled China for thousands of years. The article was later included in a textbook for Chinese students.

Chinese experts have long debated whether or not the Leifeng Pagoda should be rebuilt. A strong argument for the pagoda's rebuilding was that it had great archaeological value and was also an ancient architectural masterpiece.

Originally of Buddhist architecture, the Leifeng Pagoda was said to have once housed the hair and skeletal remains of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism. In March of 2001, a number of ancient Buddhist relics were unearthed from the underground chamber of the pagoda.

For the local government, the reason for the rebuilding lies in the great tourism potential of the restored pagoda.

In a public opinion survey in early 20th century, the "Sunset at the Leifeng Pagoda" was chosen as one of the "top 10 sights around the West Lake" and became a must-see for tourists. Reputed as "a paradise on earth," Hangzhou now receives millions of domestic and overseas visitors each year.

With a total cost of 150 million RMB yuan (US$18 million), the rebuilding project started in May 2001. The newly-built pagoda will strictly adhere to the style and appearance of the original one, and will be 70.7 meters high with five storeys.

The Hangzhou municipal government also plans to apply to the United Nations to put the new Leifeng Pagoda on the World Heritage List after the project is finished, local sources said.

(Xinhua News Agency August 5, 2002)

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