Still standing and still in every-day use - the arched wooden bridges built in China nearly 1,000 years ago demonstrate the true skill of the master craftsmen who first constructed them. These stunning structures show how not every part of China has been altered by its remarkable rate of development.
The bridges, suspended between two banks of lush greenery and built from the wood of the trees surrounding them, are still a fully functional part of life in the Fuijan and Zhejiang provinces along China’s south east coast.
Of the 100 woven arched timber ‘lounge bridges’ in China, 19 of them are in the Shouning County of the Fujian province alone - including the Luanfeng and Yangmeizhou bridges in the village of Xiadang. The Qiancheng bridge meanwhile, in the Tangkou village, in Fuzhou, also in the Fujian province is even older, having been built during the Southern Song Dynasty which lasted from 1127 to 1279.
Again the bridge, which is an impressive 62.7 metres long and 4.9 metres wide, has been rebuilt several times, but remains an iconic image of ancient Chinese construction methods. Both of the bridges have been listed as one of the state’s key cultural relics, while the UNESCO website has said the traditional methods for building the bridges on China’s south east coast, has declined in recent years because of the country’s rapid urbanisation.
The building of the bridges relies on a skilled craftsmanship, with a woodworking master directing the carpentry of a team of woodworkers. This craftsmanship has been passed on down the years from one generation to another by masters teaching apprentices or relatives within a clan following strict procedures. The clans then play a vital role in the building, maintenance and protection of the bridges.
The bridges, included on UNESCO’s National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, are built entirely by hand using the skill of ‘beam-weaving’ and creating mortise and tenon joints. The woodworking masters design the bridges with a range of arches depending on the surroundings, while the passageways can be of various styles, depending on the use of the bridge.
To create arch support, ‘beam weaving’ is used which sees three rows of wood formed into an arch-supporting system while in the upper layer five shorter rows of wood are jointed and intertwined with upper-arch supports.
Wood that then connects the whole bridge is placed at the joints between the ends so the bridge becomes a solid whole. Traditional tools such as Lu Ban rulers, sawhorses, axes and chisels were used in the construction of the bridges.