DongYang Woodcarving-The Dying Art

As part of our West Lake, China tour, we visited the LeiFeng (Thunder) pagoda. The pagoda in itself was interesting, so was the parnoramic view of the lake from the top of the tower; what we found most interesting were some woodcarvings in the tower which depict the story of the White Snake. The wood carvings are huge, impressive and belong to the DongYang school of woodcarving. I only manged to take some interesting parts of the woodcarvings. At the suggestion of some readers ( who read my earlier post- Goodbye West Lake, China), I am posting this together with four photos of the woodcarvings. The first photo is a White Snake in the form of a beautiful women falling in love with a young man. I have hesitance of showing the photos as they are not of the best quality; they show some reflection of the lights off the glass which protects the carvings.

Woodcarving is a dying art in China as this demands a lot of skills, time and dedication. Young people in China are more interested in learning other trades and look for other openings. Woodcarving in China can be traced back to the New Stone Age.  With a long history, the handicraft has developed into four major schools: Huizhou Woodcarving, Dongyang Woodcarving, Chaozhou Woodcarving, and Hunan Woodcarving. As one of the four major schools of woodcarving, Dongyang Woodcarving has been reputed as one of the best folk handicrafts and a national treasure. Dongyang Woodcarving came into being early in Tang Dynasty. In Song Dynasty, it became highly developed as an art. During the period of Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty, Dongyang Woodcarving flourished. The picture below shows the White Snake in beautiful human form flying above the West Lake with the pagoda on the left, willows at the top and boats on the lake.

Dongyang woodcarving, also called “white woodcarving” (white is the natural color of the wood) is one of the finest in Chinese crafts. In terms of techniques, Dongyang woodcarving features a high relief, multi-layers, and a rich composition of pictures, presenting a third dimension, full yet in neat order.

Legend of the White Snake is one of the most famous tales among folks in ancient China, originating in the Tang and Five Dynasties period. Legend has it that a white snake (an immortal, whose earthly form was of a beautiful woman, but who would revert back to a snake if she drank wine) came to the human world as she was longing for human life and married a scholar named Xu Xian. However, such marriage was opposed by Fahai, a Buddhist monk in Jinshan Temple, who maintained that coexistence of human and evil spirit was  to be disallowed and discontinued. He suppressed  and imprisoned the white snake under Leifeng Pagoda at the bank of the West Lake and Xu Xian’s family was fragmented. Only when the West Lake was dried and Leifeng Pagoda collapsed would the White Snake  have a chance to be rescued.

Many years later, after gaining a Zhuangyuan title (the first place in the imperial officers’examination), the White Snake’s son offered sacrifice to his mother in front of the Leifeng Pagoda. God was moved by his action and cause the pagoda to collapse, which enabled the family to reunite. In 1924 A. D., after standing there for a thousand years, the old pagoda did collapse (and thousands of local people in Hangzhou cheered and tried to find evidence of this story in the ruins). This pagoda was later rebuilt.

The story of the White Snake is a long one and there are many variations. For those who are interested in the legend and how the story is related to the LeiFeng (Thunder) pagoda, please peruse Wikipedia  or