temples - wild goose

Discovering Buddhism at the Giant and Small Wild Goose Pagodas

Heading to China soon? If you find yourself fascinated by Chinese religion, history, or even yoga, then we have two pagodas that you’ll want to add to your travel itinerary, right away. Not sure what a pagoda is? No sweat, that’s what we’re here for. For those of you who don’t know, a pagoda is a sacred Buddhist temple.

China buddha

Two of the most important in all of China are the Small and Giant Wild Goose Pagodas, which were built over one thousand years ago during China’s golden era, the Tang Dynasty. They were constructed in the Shaanxi province of China, just south of its capital at the time, Xi’an, where they continue to stand today as symbols of chang’an, aka constant peace.

Giant Wild Goose Pagoda

Built in 652, this temple has come to be one of the most famous in all of China. In particular, it’s renowned for the key role that it played in the dissemination of Buddhist teachings, which is accomplished by acting as a hub for those who wanted to study scriptures.

The Many Versions

Before digging into all that though, let’s look back at what was here before: the “Five Storey Temple,” or the “Wu Lou.” It was built in the Sui Dynasty in 589 AD, and less than one hundred years later, its deteriorating structure transformed into the first version of the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda.


Aside from the fact that its decaying state had become simply unappealing for worshipers and visitors, the main reason for this renovation lies in the death of the Empress. Her son, the crown prince Li Zhi, wanted to commemorate her and her elegant, warm-hearted nature by devoting this renewed temple to her.

Unfortunately, it became weathered again, and in 700 AD it was rebuilt once more—this time featuring ten storeys. When this version was destroyed in the mid-sixteenth-century earthquake, it was re-constructed another time and this version is what we can see today.

Today’s Pagoda

The structure stands at sixty-four metres in height and has seven impressive storeys. It is said to be a perfect representation of Chinese architecture: tall, simple, and solemn.

It was built with a chamber expressly devoted to the translating of scriptures, as the emperor wanted to impress the Buddhist monk Xuanzang, in order to ultimately acquire him as head of the temple. Why Xuanzang? He was a significant figure in the Buddhist history, credited with developing the theories of consciousness, karma and rebirth that are now a central part of most branches of Buddhism. He was also revered for his ability to translate Sanskrit texts, which he would gather on his many trips to India and take back with him to China.

The Music Fountain

One feature that really stands out as a must-see at Big Wild Goose Pagoda? The music fountain. If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, a music fountain is essentially a fun place to gather with friends and family—like piazzas in Italy—and listen to music. What’s so unique is that the fountain is animated, so it can be synced with the music, splashing and flashing different colours in tune with the music playing.

Door to the temple

This particular fountain one is the largest in all of Asia, and as such it offers you the best entertainment experience possible—the most seating, the most impressive acoustics, etc. This has been, unquestionably, one of our favourite, multi-sensory experiences in China.

Small Wild Goose Pagoda

A mere five kilometres away, you’ll find Small Wild Goose Pagoda, aptly named after its larger counterpart that was erected about 50 years prior. When it was originally built, the structure reached a height of forty-five metres. At this time, it was comprised of fifteen storeys.

Unfortunately, in the mid-sixteenth century, a terrible earthquake broke out in the Shaanxi province of China that led to massive destruction. It was at this time that the temple’s top two storeys crumbled off, never to be replaced again.

Chinese lantern

Although this particular restoration was not undergone, the remaining thirteen storeys of the sacred building have actually been very well-preserved—even in the name of other natural disasters that it has had to endure over time. Its exterior features layers of sturdy brick, while the interior remains hollow. Regarding the base of the temple, it too is still intact—in its original square shape.

Jianfu Temple

If you’re looking for Small Wild Goose Pagoda, you’ll find it here, in Jianfu Temple. This encapsulating structure was built over 1300 years ago, in honour of the former emperor, Lizhi, or Gaozong as he was known upon his ascension to the throne. It was erected, specifically, one hundred days after he passed.

Of note – this temple is well known for the period in which the famed Buddhist Yijing lived here—during which time he translated scriptures he had brought with him from India.

Take your learning into the physical realm

So, if you’re interested in Buddhism at all, or even just interested in the history of China and Chinese culture, we strongly suggest you make your way to these pagodas. They provide the perfect opportunity for you to experience the history of this eastern faith in a real, tangible way—and is there really any other way?

Buddha statues

Think about it, you may have heard all about Buddhism in yoga class back home, or on a tour bus in China, but how likely are you to really remember anything unless you get out there and see this world that’s being described to you for yourself? Highly unlikely, right? So don’t miss out on an opportunity to experience all that these holy structures have to offer, in person. Remember- they are an integral part to the Buddhist faith; it would not be where it is today without them!

We want to know, will you add these two to your itinerary?

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Cez Krol

Travel blogger at eTramping
Cez lives in China like a local for the past 4 years. Apart from speaking the language, he loves to discover more about this unique country of extreme contrasts. He shares his China experiences here at Sublime China and on his blog eTramping, so go and check out what's out there for you in China.
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