• Tue
  • Oct 21, 2014
  • Updated: 11:31pm

Hundreds cheer return of historic steel bridge

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 February, 2009, 12:00am
 

Rain and chilly winds in Shanghai were not enough to stop several hundred history buffs turning out early yesterday to witness the return of a century-old bridge to the northern end of the city's iconic Bund.

A sea of umbrellas crowded on to the promenade at the mouth of Suzhou River to watch the first of two sections of Waibaidu Bridge - one of the oldest steel bridges in China - ferried into position by barge after a 10-month restoration.

The 300-strong crowd of diehard bridge enthusiasts jostled for position as the antique span made its three-hour aquatic dance homewards. They broke into cheers as the barge entered the narrow tributary from the main Huangpu River.

Built by a British engineering firm in 1907, it has become a symbol of Shanghai's civic pride, though tinged with memories of its colonial past.

Shen Chongfeng, 73, said there was no way a little weather was going to stop him and his wife witnessing the historic bridge's return.

'We won't get a chance to see this again,' he said. 'We will be long gone by the time they restore the bridge again. We'll leave it to our grandchildren to watch it then.'

He said they had set out from home at 6.30am, while it was still dark, and cycled for two hours to get to the waterfront. But the couple, who have been married for 44 years, also had a very personal reason for their determination.

'We did most of our courting on Waibaidu Bridge when we were young,' Mr Shen said. 'It has a very special place in our hearts.'

A similar sense of romantic nostalgia seemed to be the motivation for most of the crowd - almost universally over retirement age.

'We used to cycle across that bridge almost every day when I was young,' said Li Xiaoguang, 62. 'I played all around this district while I was growing up, so it's nice to see the old bridge back where it belongs.'

For others, the bridge's return was a symbol of the bigger picture.

'This bridge has witnessed all the huge changes that have taken place in China over the past century,' said Wu Jian, 52. 'It is like a window to our history.'

Amateur photographer Wang Shuntao proudly showed off his pictures taken when the two sections of the bridge were removed last April.

Liang Jun - at 27, probably less than half the average age of the onlookers - was there for the sheer love of bridge architecture.

'It is held together with rivets. To fit them they need to be heated to an incredible temperature. The riveters are amazing to watch. They work in pairs, with one hurling the glowing rivets up to his partner once they are hot enough.'

During the 52-metre bridge's restoration, the engineering team replaced about 60,000 of the 160,000 rivets. The renovation is the most extensive since the bridge was built, and has resulted in the structure increasing in weight by more than 10 per cent to reach 1,000 tonnes.

The southern span of the bridge was to be ferried into position in a similar operation this morning.

Wu Yukai, 76, said he hoped for better weather to draw a larger crowd, and more young people.

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