Bifurcated Memory

A Cultural Biography of the Porcelain Pagoda of Nanjing


  • Fan Lin Leiden University



Da Bao’ensi, Jinling fancha zhi, Liuli ta, Porcelain Pagoda, Johan Nieuhof


The ways in which disparate meanings can be assigned to a place in different times is precisely illustrated in writings and drawings about the pagoda at the Da Bao’ensi (Great Monastery of Repaying Parental Kindness) in Nanjing (Jinling). Completed in 1428, the pagoda was once the tallest building in the city until it was destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion (1850–1864). The goal of this article is not to reconstruct the material details of the pagoda in history, but to inquire how it was remembered and imagined in various cultural contexts in the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) periods. This article will first examine how the cultural meanings of the pagoda were created in four contexts: imperial edicts implying the political agenda for its construction; monastery gazetteers presenting it as monastic property; works of literati featuring it as a landmark in the cityscape; and European travelogues and encyclopedias recontextualising it as an exotic spectacle in the conceptualised landscape. While the pagoda was referred to as the Liuli ta (glazed pottery pagoda) in late imperial China, it was commonly known as the “Porcelain Pagoda” in post-seventeenth century Europe. The last part of the article examines the differing cultural logic behind the naming in the early modern global context. Through the study of the multiple trajectories of images of the pagoda, this article explores how religious, political, cultural, and social discourses were embedded in the complex processes of place-making. Writings about and images of the pagoda contribute to making the pagoda into a place resembling a literary trope, a pictorial metaphor of power and belief, and a cultural icon; they also enrich our understanding of how a religious place was woven into the urban fabric and contributed to cultural exchange in late imperial China and beyond.




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Lin: Bifurcated Memory



2022-12-30 — Updated on 2023-01-05


How to Cite

Lin, F. (2023). Bifurcated Memory: A Cultural Biography of the Porcelain Pagoda of Nanjing. The Journal of the European Association for Chinese Studies, 3, 183–205. (Original work published December 30, 2022)



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