Visit Wan'an Bridge: the 1,000-year-old wooden bridge in Fujian's Pingnan
The pictures above is the 1,000-year-old Wan'an Bridge in Pingnan county, Fujian province.
Bridges are not just for crossing rivers in Pingnan, they are icons of the little-known county in northeast Fujian province.
Locals claim that Pingnan was once home to more than 100 of these distinctive wooden bridges that were recognized by UNESCO in September as an intangible cultural heritage.
Currently, there are just 15 of the bridges, two of which have just been rebuilt. The 1,000-year-old Wan'an Bridge is the oldest and the longest wooden bridge in the country, measuring 98.2 m.
The other remaining bridges have been renovated and still play a significant role in village life. Every day you can see streams of villagers pouring across, tools in hand.
When they have leisure time they chat or play chess on the bridges, while their buffaloes chew grass on the river's bank. On summer nights, some villagers sleep on the bridges because it is cool and free of annoying mosquitoes.
Bridges here are often connected with religion and there is a local saying that: "Where there is a bridge, there is a temple."
It is usually located at one end of the bridge and has either Buddhist or Taoist gods, but some villagers worship gods originating from local folktales.
In a temple next to Wan'an Bridge, for example, there is a statue of the Monkey King, the main character from the classical Chinese novel Journey to the West.
There are also some shrines on the bridge, but believers have to be careful when they burn incense as several bridges have burned down.
The most recent fire was in June 2006 when Baixiang Bridge, which dated back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279), was destroyed. The local government is considering rebuilding it.
Built without a single piece of metal it takes several months to build a bridge. First, a feng shui master will choose the location. It is said that bridges built upstream of a settlement help repel evil, while those built downstream will help accumulate wealth.
Ancient Chinese people believed gods exist everywhere in wild nature, so before they cut down trees to build their bridges they would offer sacrifices to the gods of the mountain or forests.
Construction usually started in autumn, when water levels are low and before starting work, the river gods were propitiated.
When a bridge is completed a ceremony is held and the workers sing together. After the ceremony, a local villager who is recognized for having good luck is asked to cross the bridge first, in order to bring good fortune to everyone.
The person in charge of construction is called "main rope" while his assistant is the "assisting rope". They are the only ones to have their names printed on the bridge's main beam.
Huang Chuncai, 74, is the youngest "main rope" in Pingnan. Both his father and grandfather were "main ropes". He learned the skill from his father when he was 15 and became a "main rope" in his 20s.
Huang built his last bridge in 1969 and after that wooden bridges were gradually replaced by concrete ones.
In 2005, however, Huang was brought out of retirement when the local government relocated a wooden bridge built in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). He has been engaged in various renovation projects since then.
Huang is passing down his skills to his two sons.
Traditionally, the knowledge can only be passed down to male family members, but Huang is keen to move with the times and is willing to teach anyone who is willing to learn the trade.
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