LU Xiaodi feels reluctant to sell ancient bridges in a park he built, together with other villagers in suburban Shanghai, despite the park's financial difficulties and offers from businessmen that are quite attractive.
Lu and other villagers in Maqiao Town of Minhang District raised 30 million yuan (US$4.72 million) in 2003 to build the park, named Hanxiang Water Cultural Museum. With the approval of the local cultural relics protection authority, they moved about 30 old, unlisted bridges from the city and East China areas to the park to protect them and attract visitors. It opened to the public in 2005 with ticket price of 30 yuan.
However, the park's revenues are barely enough to pay for its hundreds of workers, most of them villagers who invested to build the park, said Lu.
"We villagers believed it was the best way to protect the old bridges by moving them together to the park built in 2003, but it has become difficult to run the park because few visitors come to the park in the city's suburban area," said Lu, manager of the park and one of the 3,000 villagers in Maqiao to invest 10,000 yuan in the park.
Shanghai has more than 300 ancient bridges of Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties or earlier, mostly in suburban areas, but only dozens of them are listed by local authorities as protected historic relics. Most others are in poor condition and lost their function long ago.
The park received 30,000 visitors last year, providing an income of less than 1 million yuan, enough only to cover the workers' monthly salary of 1,200 yuan, said Lu.
Moreover, the maintenance would cost more than that of common bridges because the park had to invite professionals to maintain the cultural relics, he said.
The park, covering about 800,000 square meters along the Huangpu River, contains streams, trees, pavilions, rock formations and replicas of ancient dynasty buildings, all connected by the stone bridges.
Each of them has a story.
Xiangjing Bridge, literally "a bridge with a fragrant pathway," was built to welcome a visit by Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795).
The oldest, Hanxiang Bridge, boasts five archways and is named after Han Xiangzi, one of the eight legendary immortals in Chinese mythology.
At the back of the park lie many stones scattered around, which should be made into a public square - a project not completed because of a shortage of funds, according to Weng Lifeng, a senior official of the park.
The poor business can be blamed on an inconvenient location. Visitors must spend two hours to transfer between two Metro lines and take a bus to the terminus to reach the park, Weng said.
"If the business remains poor, the park will have no choice but to sell some of the old bridges whose conditions cannot be ensured after they leave the park," Weng told Shanghai Daily.
However, the bridges in the park have been luckier than those outside.
"About 10 ancient bridges, especially the flat bridges, are dismantled or damaged every year in Shanghai," said Lu Dan, a local researcher on old bridges.
In many of the city's outlying areas, former rivers have dried up so the old bridge is useless. With the development projects such as buildings and highways, most of these bridges are removed if they are not listed as protected cultural relics, said Lu, who has visited hundreds of local old bridges.
The largest concentration of old bridges lies in Fengxian District, which has about 100, while Pudong's Nanhui area and Qingpu District have about 60 each. The rest of Pudong and Minhang have around 40 bridges older than 100 years, according to Lu.
"An old bridge should come up to many standards to be listed apart from its age, including its condition, its architectural and artistic value as well as the stories behind the structure," said Li Kongsan, an official with the Shanghai Cultural Relics Management Commission.
The commission will allocate some money to maintain and fix the bridges only if they are listed as "protected."
By Yang Jian
02 July 2012
At Hanxiang Water Cultural Museum in Shanghai's Maqiao Town, about 30 old, unlisted bridges from the city and East China areas are moved here for protection and to attract visitors.