San Zuo Qiao – Three Bridges

Xihu - West Lake

I’ve long been fascinated by bridges – I’m always photographing them. To me they symbolise humanity’s attempts to overcome obstacles, to create union and communication where hitherto there was none, and mainly to not succumb to the immense powers of nature and misfortune but to determine to overcome obstacles and “build bridges” between opposing grounds, points of view, peoples.

Tonight  I stumbled upon Desley Jane’s pictures of one of my favourite bridges – the Storey Bridge in my hometown. Desley Jane in turn inspired Perelincolours Three Bridges of Berlin. In blog-bridge inspiration category, it would be remiss of me to not include the remarkable bridge in the equally remarkable Lucile de Godoy’s Bridging Lacunas – long a reminder I must “do a bridge post” one of these days.

Desley and Perelincolours invite us to share three bridges, so today and tonight ( after all, time is quite irrelevant when we are aboard spaceship china) I am bringing you three Chinese bridge pictures.

Not necessarily my three favourite bridges  – my favourite bridge in the world in fact, is the feature picture – Willow Bridge in Hangzhou, so I’m getting around the ‘three bridges’ rule by including a feature photo.

The Rainbow Bridge, Mudu, Jiangsu, China

Mudu is a small township not far from Suzhou, in the province of Jiangsu. It’s a water town, full of many classic-style bridges.

MuDu 101

Along the waterways straddled by stone bridges, people go about their daily lives much as they have for centuries past.

View from canal near Rainbow Bridge, Mudu.

Far away in Guizhou province, the Miao people – one of China’s 56 nationality groups – have a traditional style bridge.

Bridge in Guizhou

It’s called the Wind and Rain Bridge.Wind and Rain  Bridges are common to Miao and Dong peoples in Guizhou  and often feature as the entrance to their villages. Usually quite long, they are constructed with pagodas atop to help people shelter from the wind and rain.

The Wind and Rain Bridge leads to one side of the Miao village, where houses perch atop the steep hill.

The Bridge is a nice place to stop, meet friends and chat, or take in a view of the green surrounds.

Not a nail was used in the construction of this elaborately carved bridge.

Finally, going much further back to some unspecified time BC, but probably around the time of the Zhou dynasty, before Qin Shi Huang invaded other nations states, united them under one rule and gave his own name to what we now call “China”, there was a  state called Shu, nestled between mountains on all sides in the green luxuriousness of what we now call Sichuan province. In 1929 a group of farmers – as often happens in China – stumbled upon some amazing historical artefacts buried in the ground. They were unlike anything else ever seen before –

Sanxingdui mask on Spaceship China

The mysterious culture was given the name Sanxingdui, meaning Three Star Mound. A musuem was built on the exact site of the find, which is now believed to be the capital city of the ancient state of Shu. The entrance to the museum is over an old stone arch bridge – noone is too sure how old this bridge is, but it’s style is certainly  in keeping with the Chinese stone arch tradition, with localised Shu characteristics.

Chengdu 2015 055

The stylised lines and patterns are similar to the unusual patterns carved into Sanxingdui statues. Noone knows their meaning, however some theorise they may have been a written language of the ancient Shu.

Patterns on a rooster – a relic from Sanxingdui

The ancient bridge leading into Sanxingdui is actually not just one bridge, but a series of three, so we have three bridges nestled into three bridges.

To say “three bridges” in Chinese, you will need three words.


san zuo qiao

san  means three, and 座 zuo usually means ‘sit’, but in this case is one of those mysterious things in Chinese grammar called “measure words”. A measure word is bascially a classifier, and comes before the noun and after the number – i.e. – three “classifying word” bridges.

The word for bridge itself, 桥, is a fascinating word. Chinese characters are composed of things called “radicals” which are basically part of a character. In this case, the left side radical is  木, mu which means wood. On the right hand side at the top is 天 which means sky or heaven, and beneath it are two lines which don’t really form a radical by themselves, but are similar to a radical with a line through two lines 廾gong ,  meaning two hands.

Even though the ‘etymology’ is not correct, it helps me to remember how to write the word for bridge by recalling that bridges in ancient times were made of wood, hands built with wood to reach to heaven.