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Excerpt from "In and About Amoy"
“Twenty-five miles west of Amoy there is a famous bridge...There are natives who will tell you that man could not have lifted, by any imaginable machinery, to their present position those immense stones of which it is made. The only conclusion they can come to is, the gods must have done the work.
“The bridge is called ‘The Po-lam Bridge’—a
place much frequented by foreigners residing in Amoy. It is 200 yards
or more long, built upon solid stone piers each about twelve feet high.
Some of the stones laid on these piers are of great length and weight.
One of them is seventy feet long, five feet thick and four feet wide,
weighing something like 107 tons. It always has been a question: How were
they put in place?”
Land of Bridges Quanzhou (ancient "Zaytun"--from which we get the word "satin") is a land of bridges, both literally and metaphorically. Start of the "Maritime Silk Road," Zaytun was not only the commercial and cultural bridge between China and the rest of the planet (assuming they were on the same planet), but it also gave us some of the world’s most unique bridges, spanning rivers, gorges, and bays. Given our vertical province’s tortuous topography, it is no wonder that Quanzhou folk excelled in bridge-making. By the Song Dynasty, Minnan alone had at least 313 bridges.
My favorite bridges include the magnificent 700-year-old wooden covered bridge in Pingnan, Putian’s Ninggai Bridge (which is protected by a modern bridge built right over top), and Quanzhou’s magnificent Anping Bridge (longest stone bridge on earth) and Luoyang Bridge.
Before visiting Quanzhou’s mythic bridges, view them through the eyes of Ms. Averil Mackenzie-Grieve, a resident of South Fujian in the 1920s:
..(excerpt from "A Race of Green Ginger")
“Galeote Pereira, when he was captured by the Chinese as a smuggler in 1549, was taken through Ch’uan-chou [Quanzhou] on his way to Foochow, and was greatly impressed with the populous countryside, the ‘gallantly paved streets’ and, above all, ‘the very noble and very well-wrought bridges of stone…for service over the rivers’. Ch’uan-chou’s bridge was even more splendid that Foochow’s bridge of Ten Thousand Ages, surpassed only by the one spanning the Loyang river ten miles to the north. For me, the great granite bridges of Fukien had an indescribable fascination. It lay, not in their uniqueness (there are believed to be none like them in the world), but, I think, in the grand, brave way in which they spanned the rivers, set their broad buttresses against the currents. Their grey bulk had personality and inspired respect; they reminded me of elephants. No one knows exactly how the stones were put into place. The buttresses supported solid granite slabs twenty-two feet long, two feet thick, laid, in the bridge over the Loyang estuary, five abreast for over a thousand feet. At the roofed gateway sat a massive stone figure, the twelfth-century builder himself. When we saw them, their function had not altered in any way since they had been built.
“For me, the Roman coliseum rises yawning like an empty wasps’ nest; life has gone from it. Even in Lucca, whose coliseum is a teeming hive of cell-slums, built with the help of Lombardic bricks and Romanesque hewn stones, builders and users are buried in history—remembered it is true, but as a legend. But across the great stone Fukienese bridges the people swarmed, thinking, acting, writing, talking, exactly as their forebears had done for more than seven hundred years. The stream of pole-carriers, litter-bearers, pedestrians, flowed unbroken throughout the centuries, the strong tide of life undiminished, undiluted; an endurance so close-textured, so ubiquitous that, living in China, one accepted it and only afterwards was amazed.” (Excerpt from, “A Race of Green Ginger,” p.112,113)
Quanzhou’s three most famous bridges are Luoyang Bridge, Anping Bridge, and Dongguan Bridge. Dongguan, in Yongchun, is a bit off the beaten path, so we’ll visit it after we’ve seen two marvelous bridges just off the 324 national highway.
Anping Bridge This recently renovated 2,251m bridge was the longest bridge on earth during the Middle Ages, and is still the longest stone bridge today. It was built in 1138 in Anhai by the monk Zupai as a replacement for the ferry, and wasn't completed until 1151. He used massive granite slabs, most of which are said to have been shipped from nearby Jinmen Island (Quemoy). It was originally called the Five Mile Bridge because it was Five Li (Chinese Miles) long--but I’m not sure if they were the long li, short li, mandarin li or common country li. Whichever li, the bridge is a long walk on a hot summer day, so take it slowli.
Before Mr. Cai Xiang (1012-1067) was able to overcome
incredible difficulties to erect the Luoyang Bridge, traversing the Luoyang
river required travelers to spend an entire day going inland, or to chance
crossing on small craft that were often sunk by squalls sent by evil spirits.
In 1053, Quanzhou prefect Cai Xiang, who was born in Xianyou and became
a Jinshi at the tender age of 19, decided to remedy the situation by building
a stone bridge at the mouth of the Luoyang River.
The granite slabs were up to 10 meters long and one meter wide, and weighed ten tons. Each time I traverse the bridge, I marvel that the ancients could have even hewn the mammoth blocks, much less transported them to the Luoyang River, where they battled its legendarily ferocious currents to set them in place.
Historical records relate that the completed bridge was 834 meters long by 7 meters wide, and had 500 stone sculptures to serve as railings, all supported upon 46 piers (talk about pier pressure!). Over 700 pine trees were planted on both ends of the bridge, and as further protection from typhoons, the bridge was armed with 28 stone lions, 7 pavilions, 9 towers, and numerous stone warriors.
The bridge stood largely unchanged for centuries. Even during the 8.0 earthquake almost 400 years ago (which toppled Ashab Mosque’s dome), the bridge suffered only minor damage. But Japanese invaders accomplished what nature could not. In the center of the bridge is a Pusa that used to have a moonstone in her forehead. It supposedly glowed at night, guiding seamen to safety--until the Japanese stole it.
1 Million Yuan Renovation! Luoyang bridge was renovated several times after 1949. The renovation in the early 90s cost over 1 million Yuan. When I asked why it was so costly, an official said, “Because nowadays we have to dig away half a mountain to find a ten meter slab of granite!” I was told.
Maybe they could try shorter pieces and lots more oysters?
Cai Xiang Memorial Temple, (Cai Xiang Ci), is south of
Luoyang Bridge. Within is a stone tablet, “The Records of Building
Wan’An Bridge,” inscribed by the great bridge builder himself.
“Wan ‘An” (10,000 Peace) was another popular name for
As the angel passed through Quanzhou he took pity upon
the parched landscape, but he dared not release the rain anywhere but
the god’s designated target. But Mayor Fang Ke was a savvy politician.
He renamed the area Xichuan, evidently figuring that god could not read
(because the characters are different even if they sound similar). The
angel must have agreed about his lord’s literacy, because he released
his rain upon Quanzhou (and Sichuan had to make do with bottle water).
Hence the stone pavilion’s inscription, “Xichuan Ganyu”
(????), which I was told meant, “Water is precious, one drop is
The temple has a red faced idol of an ancient monk, whom locals revere because, according to legend, when the people lacked fuel for cooking he used his own leg as firewood. “The monk really existed!” I was told, “Though we can’t prove the leg story.”
Personally, I thought they were just pulling my leg. But
I confessed, “American restaurants are worse. They charge an arm
and a leg.”
There are many legends about Cai Xiang. One says he tried ten times to
lay Luoyang Bridge’s foundation, but each time it was swept away
by the powerful tides. In frustration, he sent an officer to find the
Sea God and ask advice. The officer returned from who knows where with
a one word suggestion, “Vinegar.” Cai Xiang interpreted this
cryptic word, and laid the bridge successfully.
“It was during one of these squalls that a very remarkable thing happened, which led to the building of the bridge. At this particular time, while a large boat load of passengers was being ferried across, a storm came down upon them in wildest fury. Just when all hope was about to be abandoned of ever reaching the shore a voice rang out above the storm commanding one named Cai (?)to build a bridge across this dangerous point of the sea. They were soon after all safely landed. It was discovered later that there was but one person by the name of Cai living in that neighborhood. It was also learned that he had only just married, and that it had been revealed to his wife in some mysterious manner that she would be the mother of the man who was to build the bridge.
“In due time the child was born who was named Cai Xiang and grew up a precocious youth. In his young manhood he became a mandarin. His mother took pains to tell him what had occurred in the storm, of what had been revealed to her years before, and what his mission therefore in life might be expected to be. Young Cai became deeply impressed and took steps at once to secure an appointment as mandarin in his native prefecture that he might undertake his appointed task. He knew it was against all custom and law for one to be appointed to office in his own district, he was therefore not a little puzzled to know how this desire of his was to be brought about. But fortune often favors those who are in earnest and in course of time circumstances brought out friend Cai to the palace of the Emperor, where he hit upon a novel as well as bold idea to accomplish his wish.
“One day while walking in the Imperial grounds he took a pot of honey and wrote on a tree this sentence—“Cai Xiang the learned, be magistrate in your native prefectural city.” Sometime after the Emperor came walking along, and what his surprise was can only be imagined when he saw this sentence now emblazoned on a tree in living characters of armies of black ants that were feeding on the honey. His surprise found expression as he read out in a loud tone of voice, “Cai Xiang the learned, be magistrate in your native prefectural city.” Mr. Cai was conveniently near at hand, and at the same time innocently enough took the words of the Emperor as an appointment to the office he so much desired, and proceeded without delay to thank his sovereign for the great honor he had conferred on him. Though the Emperor protested that that was not at all his meaning—that he was merely reading the sentence which the ants had written (which by the way Cai had taken good pains to bring about, having carefully selected a tree with an ant nest at the base)—he held his majesty to the words as his intention to appoint him to this office. Finally the Emperor yielded...
“He began at once making preparation for building the bridge. His greatest task was in laying the foundations for the central piers as in that particular spot the rushing current never ceases its flow and ebb. How to sink the foundations there puzzled Cai Xiang for many a day, when it occurred to him to write to Neptune on the subject, asking him to be kind enough to keep the waters back from the place for one brief day, and to be so accommodating as to mention the date when that would occur. Then the question arose who was to take this letter to old Neptune.
In answer it was discovered that there was a man living near by whose name was ‘Able to Descend into the Sea.’ This man was pressed into service and like a bold knight he set out to fulfill his mission, by laying himself down in a comfortable and dry spot where he proposed to stay until the incoming tides covered him, when he could communicate with the god of the waters. While he was waiting he fell asleep. How long he slept will never be known, but when he awoke he found the letter gone, and another addressed to Cai Xiang, though he was in the same spot that he was when he went to sleep.
The letter was delivered to Cai Xiang. It contained but a single character ? (vinegar). It was indeed as gall and vinegar to receive such a message, for whatever could it mean! Struggle as he might with it, search his brain hard and long, he could make no sense out of it. Finally he began to break up the character into its different compound parts, and thereby he solved the problem and received his answer from old Neptune. The reply was that at evening on the 21st of the month the waters would be stayed. These directions were followed, the foundations successfully sunk and in due time the building of the wonderful bridge completed.”
Like other ancient wooden bridges, it has a shrine in
the middle, and religious paintings on the beams above. The wooden bridge
is supported by stone block columns, with the upstream side shaped like
a ship’s bow to deflect heavy currents (they learned this from Luoyang
and Anping bridges).
Xiamen Bridge Museum Though in Xiamen, not Quanzhou, this is right next door, and the best way to appreciate China’s contributions to bridge building. The museum has models and photos of bridges all over China, as well as the rest of the world, as well as the best location to take photos of Xiamen’s beautiful Haicang Suspension Bridge. (I’d tell you what world records it has set, but I want to keep you in suspense).
ARE YOU A "COVERED BRIDGE LOVER?" Try these great sites!
Extensive List of U.S. Covered Bridges, State-by-State:
Dr. Bill Brown
Last revised: Jan. 17, 2004
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Last Updated October 2006
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