Guangji Bridge (Chaozhou)

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Guangji Bridge
Guangji Bridge.JPG
a view of Guangji Bridge from the ancient city wall on the west bank
Coordinates 23°39′48″N 116°39′02″E / 23.6632°N 116.6505°E / 23.6632; 116.6505Coordinates: 23°39′48″N 116°39′02″E / 23.6632°N 116.6505°E / 23.6632; 116.6505
Crosses Han River
Locale Chaozhou in Guangdong Province, China
Design beam bridge, bateau bridge, pontoon bridge, open-close bridge
Total length 517.95 metres (1,699 ft)
No. of spans 18
Piers in water 24
Construction start 南宋乾道七年 (1170AD)
The bridge photographed in 1869 by John Thomson
The bridge photographed in 1869 by John Thomson

Guangji Bridge (simplified Chinese: 广济桥; traditional Chinese: 廣濟橋; pinyin: Guǎng Jì Qiáo; literally: "Great Charity Bridge"), also known as Xiangzi Bridge (simplified Chinese: 湘子桥; traditional Chinese: 湘子橋; pinyin: Xiāng Zǐ Qiáo), is an ancient bridge that crosses the Han River in Chaozhou, Guangdong province, China.[1] A key cultural relic under national protection, the bridge is renowned as one of China's four famous ancient bridges, the other three being the Zhaozhou Bridge, the Lugou Bridge, and the Luoyang Bridge. Guangji Bridge is located in the east of Chaozhou, across the Hanjiang River.[2]

It was an important bridge on which to cross the Han River. It was the first open-and-close style bateau bridge in China, and even in the world. There is an old saying, "到潮不到桥,枉向潮州走一遭",[1] which means that if you went to Chaozhou without visiting the bridge, you cannot say that you have been to Chaozhou. Mao Yisheng, a famous expert on the bridge, said, "A part of Guangji Bridge is connected by boats as a bateau bridge. When it is open, there is a channel for ships and boats to get across. It can also be closed. Since it can be open or closed, it is a special case in the history of bridges in China."[3] There are various pavilions on the bridge, so there is a popular saying, "twenty-four pavilions have twenty-four styles". What’s more, a great number of businessmen did business on the bridge. It was very prosperous at that time, so people say, "In one Li one the bridge, there is one Li of business market."[1][4]


Guangji Bridge was built by Zeng Wang, a magistrate under the Song Dynasty (1170).[2] At that time, it was a floating bridge consisting of 86 large boats connected to one another. Its original name was Kangji Bridge.[5] In the year 1174 (Chunxi Year 淳熙元年间), it was flooded and broken, so another magistrate, of Chang Wei prefecture, had workers reconstruct it. People began to build bridge piers on the west bank at that time. Before 1194, there were several magistrates of the prefecture—including Zhu Jiang, Wang Zhenggong, Ding Yinyuan, and Wang Shujin—who were involved in the construction of 10 bridge piers. Ding Yunyuan built the most piers. For his outstanding achievements, the bridge was called Ding Gong Bridge.[4] In 1194 (the 5th year of Zhaoxi, 绍熙五年), a magistrate (太守) of Shen Zongyu prefecture built a pavilion on the east bank and named the bridge Jichuan Bridge. Later on, more magistrates were involved in its construction. By 1206 (the second year of Kaixi 开禧二年), 13 piers had been built.[2]

After the construction of the east and west bridgeheads was completed, they were connected by some boats, which formed a bridge with the features of both a beam bridge and a pontoon bridge.[4]

In the years between the late Song Dynasty and Yuan Dynasty, sometimes the surrounding area of the bridge was prosperous, and sometimes it was desolate. In 1435 (Ming Dynasty), an magistrate of a prefecture(知府) named Wang Yuan led people to reconstruct it.[4] When it was finished, there were 10 piers and 9 holes in the west bridge, 13 piers and 12 holes in the east bridge with 24 boats in the middle. What’s more, there were 126 rooms on the bridge.[6] Its name was changed into Guangji Bridge. In the eighth year of Zhengde (1513), another magistrate of a prefecture called Tan Lun added a pier to it but cut 6 boats out. Thus, there are 18 boats and 24 piers in Guangji Bridge. People used “十八梭船二十四洲” to summarize this feature.[4] In 1724 (the second year of Yongzheng of Qing Dynasty 雍正二年), Zhang Ziqian magistrate of a prefecture repaired the bridge and cast two statues of oxen,one in the west bridge and the other in the east to mean to protect the bridge and defend blood.[2] In 1842, the iron ox in the east was flooded into the river. Therefore, there is a folksong about it,“潮州湘桥好风流,十八梭船二十四洲,二十四楼台二十四样,二只鉎牛一只溜".[7] It praises the beautiful scene of Guangji Bridge, describes 18 boats, 24 piers, 24 pavilions and the story of 2 statues of oxen made of cast iron. This bridge has the feature of beam bridge, arch bridge and bateau bridge, which makes it unique in China. On the bridge, there were various rooms and pavilions, with a cattle on the west and east bridge. People did business on it, so it was also known as “In one Li one the bridge, there is one Li of business market”.[1][4]

After over 400 years, the pavilions are gone, and the cattle in the east pier was washed away by floods. In 1958, the bateau bridge were changed into beam bridge. In 1989, another bridge was built to connect the east and the west coast, which makes it possible to protect this ancient bridge.[4] The Guangji bridge has been recently rebuilt and re-opened in 2009.


In Chaozhou, there is a famous street called Paifang Street. Besides this street, there are many archways on the bridge. In addition, one of Chaozhou Eight Famous Scenes is the rising river of Han River(湘桥春涨).[6] Every year, a large number of visitors are attracted by it. The running of Xiamen-Shenzhen Railway led a greater number of people to visit it and learn the culture of Chaozhou.[4]


Actually, each pier of Guangji Bridge has a history of several hundred years. From Song Dynasty when the first one was built to the year when there were 24, it lasted over 300 years.[4] In the ancient times, the productivity was backward so it is unimaginable that people could build such a long bridge. Therefore, there is a legend that it is the fairies who consctructed the bridge.[2] When Han Yu, a famous poet in the history of China, came to Chaozhou, he always climbed the Bijia mountain(now called Han Mountain). At the top of it, he saw the river and knew the difficulty to cross the river, so he asked his niece Han Xiangzi and a monk Guangji to build to bridge.[5] Han Xiangzi built the east bridge. He invited eight fairies(八仙)to help him. Han Xiangzi went to climb Fenghuang Mountain in Chaozhou himself for stones. He changed the stones into black pigs and chased them to the bridge. One the way, a woman recognized it and spoke the secret out, so the pigs (stones) could not walk any more. Therefore, several piers in the east were not built now. Guangji Monk invited eighteen arhats to help him build the bridge in the west. He went to Sanpu Mountain to take stones. He changed the stones into cattle and sheep and chased them back. On the way, he met an evil landlore who tried to stop him and get his cattles and sheep. Guangji monk lost some cattle there so there were a part of the bridge that were not built. He Xiangu, a female fairy, dropped a petal of lotus to the river and changed it into 18 boats connecting the bridge. Guangji monk threw out his cane and changed it into chains to connect the boats together. Therefore, in order to commemorate these figures, people also named it Xiangzi Bridge.[1][4]


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