China's corridor bridges: heritage buildings over water

Ronald G. Knapp, Terry E. Miller, Jie Liu
2020 Built heritage  
Essentially unknown in the rest of the world and only recently appreciated in China, the globally significant 3000+ 'corridor bridges' (langqiao) in China far outnumber the better-known 'covered bridges' found in North America and Europe. Rivaling or exceeding those in the West in number, age, complexity, and architectural ambition, some of China's outstanding timber langqiao in the mountains of Fujian and Zhejiang provinces are on the cusp of being inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage cultural
more » ... Heritage cultural sites. Throughout south and central China today there is moreover a resurgence of new timber langqiao being erected using traditional carpentry alongside the unprecedented construction of modern marvels of steel and concrete. Archaeological evidence in 2001 uncovered China's earliest 'corridor bridge'-thus the oldest known covered bridge in the world-with a length of 42 m dating to the Han dynasty 2000 years ago. The Rulong Bridge, which dates to 1625 and is documented as the oldest standing woven arch-beam langqiao, can be visited today in Qingyuan county, southern Zhejiang. Even older langqiao with parallel log beams as the substructure have come to light in neighboring Fujian province, most notably the Zhiqing Bridge in a rural area of Jian'ou city that dates to 1490. China's bridges, whether with a corridor atop or without, have traditionally not been included under the umbrella of 'vernacular architecture' even as they usually were created by local craftspeople employing the same approaches and practices for dwellings and temples. Just as with these better researched structures, langqiao must be studied not only from the perspective of architecture, but also anthropology, geography, history, and sociology, among other disciplines. Rather than being abandoned as artifacts from the past, China's langqiao today represent a living tradition that continues serving rural communities as places of passage, spaces for leisure and marketing, sites for worship, and increasingly destinations for tourists in search of nostalgic connections with China's past. The research presented in this article draws heavily from the authors' China's Covered Bridges: Architecture over Water, a comprehensive book published in late
doi:10.1186/s43238-020-00010-w fatcat:aamxtzr2w5bwzckkjmcgvpgs3m