Fujian bridges are second to none under heaven”
"In and About Amoy" (1912,
“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.
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 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.
Quanzhou’s mythic bridges, view them through the eyes of Ms. Averil
Mackenzie-Grieve, a resident of South Fujian in the 1920s:
from "A Race of Green Ginger")
“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.
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.
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
(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.
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.”
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).
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).
Last Updated: May 2007