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Fujian Bridges!

“Central Fujian bridges are second to none under heaven”
.....................A Chinese saying

Excerpt from "In and About Amoy" (191One of Fujian Province's most beautiful old Chinese wooden covered bridges, near the unique Baishuiyang lake and resort; 3-stories high.2, p.297-8)
“The bridges of China are wonders! On some of them people build their temples and houses and shops--where they live and carry on their business. There are at least two bridges of this kind in the Amoy district, each having a population of from fifty to one hundred inhabitants--perhaps more. These bridges are generally of wonderful construction. How the largest of them were built must always remain a matter of pure conjecture.

Dragon Bridge--elegant old Chinese wooden covered bridge in Longyan, West Fujian; photo courtesy of Mr. Hu Shaogang (Babushka), of Changting's Public Relations Department.  “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?”
My favorite Fujian Province bridges er, "In and About Amoy," (1912, p.297-8)

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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:
Back to top Inside Chinese wooden covered bridge in Wuyi, Fujian Province

..(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.
Back to top Donguang Bridge, in Yongchun, Quanzhou, Fujian Province--a beautiful Chinese wooden covered bridge

“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, Statue of Mr. Cai Xiang, who built Luo Yang Bridge “A Race of Green Ginger,” p.112,113)

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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.
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Luoyang Bridge To the north of Quanzhou city lies China’s first seaport bridge, the Luoyang Bridge. Though shorter than Anping, it is older—and my favorite by far.

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.
butterfly-shaped iron wedges helped hold together the massive granite blocks of the 1,000-year-old Luoyang Bridge in Quanzhou
Mr. Cai Xiang used many innovative engineering techniques, including what may be one of the planet’s first attempts at biological engineering. The piers were ingeniously shaped like a ship’s bow to divert the raging tides. Chinese, always poetic, call them “10,000 ships launching.” (They miscounted by 9,900 but that’s “liway”, remember). The pillars’ massive granite blocks were held together with butterfly-shaped iron wedges (hence the origin of “Iron Butterfly”—almost 400 years after Kaiyuan Temple’s “Purple Haze”).
Buddha's derriere depression?  So they claim.  Buddha's buttocks in stone beside ancient Luoyang Bridge
The pillars were further reinforced with live oysters, whose natural secretions cemented the blocks together. (I asked my guides how they trained the oysters to cooperate but they clammed up on me).
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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.

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A Border Stone in the middle bears the characters Jin-Hui JiaoJiang because the center of the bridge lay on the border between Hui'an and Jinjiang.

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 TempleOld stone bridge in Changting (Little Red Shanghai, Hakka Homeland, start of the Long March , (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 Luoyang bridge.
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Making Waves
One large sunbaked stone has a natural formation resembling a snake and a turtle head. It is said that before the bridge was built, a snake and turtle lived here and caused the waves. On the other side of the stone, four characters say “God (Shangdi, ??) sat here.” Obliging locals will point out the impression left by Buddha’s buttocks when he sat there trying to dissuade the snake and turtle from wreaking such havoc with the tides and waves.

Bridge of 10,000 Ages, in Fuzhou, about 100 years ago.  Sichuan or Xichuan There is a fascinating legend behind the pavilion with “Xichuan” inscribed upon it. During the Ming Dynasty, when Quanzhou was suffering from a prolonged drought, the Mayor of Quanzhou, Fang Ke, asked people to pray for rain. Evidently, their god wasn’t up on geography because he sent an angel to give Sichuan (the west of China) a good wetting down.

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 invaluable.”
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Arm and a Leg A village temple north of the bridge used to be the bridge construction office, and is dedicated to the god who safeguarded its construction. The last Zhuangyuan of the Qing Dynasty, from Jinjiang, wrote the inscription above the temple door.

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.”
Getting to Luoyang Bridge: Buses, 10, 13, and 19
Hours: 8:00 – 17:30 Phone: 265-1816Grand old Chinese covered wooden bridge in Wuyi Mountain

Luoyang Cuisine Speaking of food... Luoyang has some legendary seafood—and it doesn’t cost an arm or a leg. Awesome oysters, the size of small eggs; steamed fish soup, washed down by oolong tea that is all the better because of the excellent local spring water; and crabs that are supposedly better than Xiamen’s because they are wild, not cultivated, and served in a thick sauce much like a Western gravy, but redolent of Chinese medicinal herbs. Heavenly.

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The Legend of Luoyang Bridge

Neptune’s Advice 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.

Rev. Pitcher (“In and About Amoy”, 1912) shares one of my favorite accounts:

“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.
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“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.
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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.”

Grand old Chinese covered wooden bridge in Wuyi Mountain, Fujian Province, China.  Photo courtesy of Mr. Wu Guangmin, of Wuyi Daily.  Amoy Magic--Guide to Xiamen and Fujian,
Dongguan Bridge wooden covered bridge, between Dehua and Putian, is remote, but this provincial level protected relic is a beauty—especially since an Overseas Chinese donated 1 million Yuan to renovate it. Built in 1145 A.D. (15th year of Shaoxing in South Song Dynasty, in case you’re dying to know), in Dongmei Village, Dongping Township, this magnificent 85m by 5m wooden beam bridge spans the scenic Humei Brook.

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).
Getting There: Special bus from Quanzhou to Yongchun
Hours: 8:00—17:30 Phone: 388-4202
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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).

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