If we take a close look at the different pagodas we find that they all have their special characteristics. The eight pagodas that look almost exactly alike at Ta'er Temple in Qinghai Province are a rarity. Sometimes even twin pagodas built side by side differ from each other. For instance, at Kaiyuan Temple in Quanzhou the east pagoda is 4.16 meters higher than the west one and the sculptures on the foundations are also different. However, we can find similarities among the thousands of ancient pagodas in China and try to divide them into a few categories.
There are different methods of classification. By the plane shape, there are square, hexagonal, octagonal, twelve-sided and circular pagodas; by the number of storeys, there are single-, three-, five-, seven- and nine-storeyed ones; by the building materials, there are those made of wood, those made of gold, silver, bronze, iron and other metals, those made of brick and stone and those made of glazed ware. If we divide the pagodas by their Buddhist religious meanings, there are <>zhenshen sarira> pagodas, <>fashen sarira> pagodas and so on. In a word, Chinese pagodas boast a rich variety of types.
We are going to classify the ancient pagodas of China according to their artistic shapes and structural forms, so that we can better understand the different forms of China's traditional architecture as expressed in the construction of pagodas. In this way we can divide pagodas into multistoreyed, multi-eaved, pavilion, and inverted-bowl-shaped styles, ornamental pagodas, those built on vajrasanas, ones across roads and gateways, and box-shaped pagodas for holding Buddhist scriptures. There are of course other types of pagodas and pagoda groups.