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

99 thoughts on “DongYang Woodcarving-The Dying Art

  1. This is beautiful! Among the few wood carvings I am drawn to. Is it really a dying art? i suppose with how fast life is today…sigh. The world will be sorry to lose something as beautiful as this.

    • I only toke 4 pictures of the woodcarving as I realized that they were affected by the reflection from the encasement glass cabinet. Thinking about it now, I should have taken more.

  2. Thank you for the great post. I’m looking forward to an afternoon trawling the internet to learn more about DongYang carving.

  3. I’m so glad you decided to share the photos and Legend of White Snake. I enlarged the first photo to see the detail. It’s absolutely magical, beyond mortal words really. I especially love their attire, the way it folds on the body. I think It would be hard to walk away, there’s so much to admire, it’s leaves you breathless.

    • The Chinese art is sometimes full of details; an example of that is to write tiny words on a grain of rice (whch can only be seen with a microscope)! The pictures as you say are just magical. Thanks for the coment Boomdeeadda!

    • Hi Ferdinand, this is a story we came to know about when we were kids. There are books, movies, operas etc on the White Snake. Very interesting folklore! Michael

  4. I may as well just get in this long line and add another “WOW” to the list. The images are spectacular!

    Re: one comment above, Michael, I somewhat disagree that China needs to become a service-oriented industry. There’s plenty of discussion in the US about us (sorry for the play on letters) having gone completely to service. Many of us are disgusted that we don’t make things anymore. It’s really rather sad. It would be ideal if we swapped some things around. (We can agree to disagree, right?).

    • I suspect nobody wants to go into service industry and abandon making things. Usually, you are pushed to abandon those industries because other people are able to manufacture them at lower costs. This happened to HK many years ago when we have light industries; but we were pushed out. It is good that the US still have many high end technology which many countries do not have. Service industry is a hard way out. Many thanks for the comment Laurie!

  5. I love the detail in the carvings, and the texture of the wood just makes it all the more remarkable. I am a fan of traditional Chinese stories and your re-telling along with the photos were just beautiful. Thanks for sharing your (retired) world with us!

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