An old bridge in Chao-Chow-Fu, in Guangdong Province, Southern China
by John Thomson.
Guangji Bridge (Chaozhou). Kwangtung province, China around 1869.
Chao-Chow-Fu, the prefectural city to which Swatow forms the port, stands on the Han river, thirty-five miles above its mouth. The surrounding country is highly fertile and productive. When Swatow was thrown open to foreign trade, a British official was appointed to reside at Chao-chow-fir, as it is the seat of the local government. The attempt was made on several occasions to establish a consulate within the city walls, but the consul was repeatedly attacked by the turbulent mobs for which the place is notorious, and the project was ultimately given up.
This tendency of the city roughs and villagers to attack foreigners met with a temporary check in January, 1869. A boat from H. M. S. “Cockchafer” had proceeded up the Han to Otingpoi for the purpose of exercising the crew. The villagers assembled, many of them “in puris naturalibus,” (In puris naturalibus (lat.) in the pure state of nature, i.e. naked, without all clothing) and commenced chaffing and pelting the sailors. Efforts made to seize the ringleader were vigorously resisted, and as the villagers, armed with guns, spears, and other weapons, began to assemble in great force, our crew were at last obliged to take to the boat, where they were fired upon and eleven of their number wounded.
In this disaster the Chinese mob had greatly the advantage of our men, as they could fire in security from the shelter of the high banks of the stream. This outrage was promptly redressed by our government, who dispatched a party of 500 men to storm the offending village. The result of this strong measure presents itself in the ruined houses and in the cringing civility of the natives about six miles round the spot. This part of the Kwangtung province has always given great trouble to its rulers; indeed, they have been obliged at times to leave their subjects to settle their own disputes by a system of clan and village warfare. As a rule the population in the rural districts are, when fairly treated, of a peaceful and inoffensive character. Under the strong hand of Juilin, governor-general of the two Kwang provinces, disturbances and riot have been summarily suppressed. These clan fights have done not a little to promote the China coolie traffic in its most revolting type, in supplying emigrants.
Chao-chow-fu is a walled city of considerable size and great commercial importance, as one may gather from its extensive warehouses, the busy traffic of its streets, the number of native craft that throng the river on which it stands. The bridge over the river is, perhaps, one of the most remarkable in China. Like old London Bridge, with its shops and places of business, the bridge at Chao-chow-fu affords space for one of the city markets. It will be seen from No. XIX. that the houses on it are built of light material, in a very primitive style, and are supported in such a way as to allow a maximum of market space on the causeway; while from a purely sanitary point of view, the house projecting as it does over the water, offers many advantages. The mode of supporting these structures displays considerable ingenuity. The only brickwork employed rests upon the bridge, and by its weight gives stability to the double brackets that project to support the lighter portion of the houses.
I shall have an opportunity in another part of the work, of showing examples of the ingenious and beautiful modes, by which the Chinese support the roofs of their temples and palaces. Although these bridge-dwellings possess few attractions apart from their breakneck style of architecture, it is pleasing to notice some evidence of refinement in the flowers that adorn the verandahs, and that are to be found, indeed, in the humblest dwellings in China. If unexplained, it would be puzzling to find out the use of the two wooden frames which hang suspended from the bridge. They form a kind of moral or mythological drawbridge.
- Illustrations of China and its people: a series of two hundred photographs, with letterpress descriptive of the places and people represented by John Thomson. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle 1873.
- Through China with a camera by John Thomson. London; New York: Harper, 1899.