Half Day Trip to The Marco Polo Bridge
Whilst I was studying Mandarin in Beijing in 2010, I didn’t know at that stage I was going to be posted to Beijing for three years starting the following year, so I was trying to make the most of sights that were not really too touristy. I had read a bit about the Marco Polo Bridge so one day after class, I hired a guide and off we drove. It’s about 15kms south west of Beijing in Fengtai District so not far to go.
So what about the history of the bridge…clearly it has something to do with Marco Polo hence the name. The bridge is not the original, which, unfortunately, is like a lot of structures in China…but its history is quite interesting. The original bridge was constructed 1189 and was completed in 1192.
The bridge was damaged from flooding and reconstructed in the Qing dynasty in 1698. So, back to my story…why is it called ‘The Marco Polo Bridge’ well my guide told me that its name comes from a time when the bridge was highly praised by the Venetian traveler Marco Polo during his visit to China in the 13th century and for the 20th century Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which marked the beginning of the second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945).
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident – I must admit I had to do some research to remind myself of this incident and in short…there was a battle between the Republic of China’s National Revolutionary Army and the Imperial Japanese Army in 1937 – the Japanese wanted to look for a missing Japanese soldier in Wanping and the Chinese refused, so the Japanese opened fire and attacked the bridge; the Chinese held the bridge with the help of reinforcements.
I also visited the Wanping Fortress, which is a ‘walled city’ on the eastern side of the bridge. The Fortress was erected with the purpose of defending Beijing against Chinese rebel leader Li Zicheng and the peasant uprising.
Back to the bridge; it really is quite beautiful, 266.5 metres long and supported on 10 piers and 11 arches with 281 pillars.
On each pillar stands a stone lion. The most intriguing feature of these animals is the fact that there are more lions hiding on the head, back, under the stomach or on the paws of each of the big lions.
Investigations to determine total the number of animals have been carried out on several occasions but the results have proved inconsistent, ranging anywhere from 482 to 496. However, record has it that there were originally a total of 627 lions. The posture of each lion varies, as do their ages. Most date from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, some are from the earlier Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368); and a few lions dating from as long ago as the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) but they are now quite rare.
I was very lucky when I first arrived on the bridge to be just one of about ten people so I was able to take some uninterrupted photos, then a school bus arrived about an hour later and tens and tens of young Chinese children swamped the area. No chance for uninterrupted photos after that!!