The story appears on

Page A16

March 15, 2015

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Sunday » Now and Then

Providing a connection through history

ANCIENT Chinese began building suspension bridges more than 2,500 years ago. At first they used wicker, bamboo or yak skins to build such structures to sling across chasms in mountainous areas.

Few historical records can be found about such structures and the building materials have long since decayed.

However, there are records of a bamboo suspension bridge built in the third century BC by Li Bing (302-235 BC), a famous engineer. Located near today’s Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, it is said this bamboo bridge was in use for more than 600 years.

Iron chain suspension bridges first appeared in China during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), but those still in existence today were mostly built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

In 1430, Thangtong Gyalpo (1385-1464), a great Tibetan Buddhist, architect and creator of Tibetan opera, built an iron chain bridge spanning the Yarlung Tsangpo River south of Lhasa, capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region today.

Boasting a central span of 137 meters, it was the suspension bridge with the longest unsupported span in the world at that time. The bridge’s wooden plank walkway hung from vertical poles and the planks were bound together with twisted willow and strips of yak skins.

According to legend, Gyalpo, known as the “Buddha of Iron Bridges” at his time, built a total of 58 iron chain suspension bridges in his lifetime.

Another ancient iron chain suspension bridge with detailed historical records in China was the Jihong Bridge, spanning the Lancang River in southwest China’s Yunnan Province. It was once called the “First Bridge in Southwest China” as it sat on an ancient path leading to India and Myanmar.

The iron chain link bridge was built in 1475, replacing a bamboo structure.

With a total length of 113.4 meters and a width of 3.7 meters, the bridge was built with 18 thick iron chains and featured a span of 57.3 meters.

However, the ancient bridge was washed away by floods in 1986.

Another masterpiece of historic suspension bridges is the Luding Bridge. Built in 1706 in the southwest China’s Sichuan Province, the 103-meter long, 3-meter wide bridge is made from 13 thick iron chains with a total weight of more than 40 tons.

The bridge was long regarded as a key link in connecting Sichuan Province and the Tibetan region. But it is today also known for a fierce battle fought there by the Chinese Communist Party-led Red Army in May 1935 against Kuomintang allied local warlords during its famous Long March to reach its bases in northern China.

In 1961, the bridge was listed among the first batch of key cultural relics of the country and put under state protection. Today it is a popular tourist attraction drawing throngs of visitors every day.

Though suspension bridges were not as popular as beam bridges or arch bridges in ancient China, in the past several decades, the country has built many world-class suspension bridges to meet its needs for modernization.

These include the Sihoumen Bridge built in 2009 on the Zhoushan Archipelago in east China’s Zhejiang Province, with a main span of 1,650 meters; the Runyang Yangtze River Bridge built in 2005 in east China’s Jiangsu Province, with a main span of 1,490 meters; the Fourth Nanjing Yangtze Bridge build in 2012 also in Jiangsu Province, with a main span of 1,418 meters; and the Jiangyin Yangtze River Bridge built in 1999 also in Jiangsu Province, with a main span of 1,385 meters.

These all among the top 10 suspension bridges in the world today in terms of the length of their main spans.

吊桥 (Diào Qiáo) Drawbridge

In Chinese, the term diao qiao may mean either a suspension bridge or a drawbridge. A suspension bridge can also be called xuansuo qiao in Chinese, but the drawbridge doesn’t have another common alias.

Also, unlike in other parts of the world, where the term drawbridge may refer to a number of movable bridges, such as bascule bridge, vertical-lift bridge and swing bridge, in ancient China a drawbridge was used almost exclusively of the bridge installed in front of a city wall gate and spanning a surrounding moat.

Such city moat drawbridges were mostly made of wood and could be raised — particularly to prevent invading troops from entering the city.

Many Chinese historians and architects believe that the first drawbridges appeared in China during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), together with the city moat.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend