There are many brigdes that cross the world's third-longest river, the Chang Jiang, or Yangtze River. The city of Wuhan, central China's largest city and the capital of Hubei Province, has three Yangtze River bridges, but the first Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge is a very special bridge – feted annually to this day – because it was the first bridge to be constructed across the mighty Yangtze River.*
The city of Wuhan was formed in 1927 through the conglomeration of three smaller villages, or buroughs – Hankou, Hanyang, and Wuchang – which lay at the confluence of the Yangtze River and its main tributary, the Hanshui River, each borough separated from the other two by a waterway (Hankou and Hanyang lie on the northern/ western bank of the Yangtze, separated by the Hanshui (with Hankou on the nothern bank of the Hanshui), while Wuchang lies on the southern/ eastern bank of the Yangtze). Indeed, the name "Wuhan" is formed from the combination of the "Wu" of Wuchang (Wu Chang) and the "han" of Hankou (Han Kou) and Hanyang (Han Yang) – which "hans", in turn, surely derive from the "han" of Hanshui (Han Shui) River).
Prior to the construction of the first Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge, the three boroughs which make up Wuhan were inter-linked via ferries and prams. The importance of the first Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge can therefore not be exaggerated for the subsequent development of the city of Wuhan, nor, for that matter, for the subsequent development of the region as a whole, for a north-south railway link was thus established. Construction of the first Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge commenced on September 9, 1955 (though the initial planning began some two years earlier, with assistance from Soviet architects and engineers). The bridge was opened to traffic two years later, on October 13, 1957. It is a combination highway-railway bridge, with two railway lanes (one lane for each direction) on the lower deck and a four-lane (two lanes for each direction) highway on the upper deck.
The 1957 Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge proper is 1156 meters long, with a 211 meter approach section on the southern/ eastern bank of the Yangtze and a 303 meter long approach section on the northern/ western bank of the Yangtze. This is a very solidly built bridge, even though it is solely supported by a series of 8 massive pillars, or columns, with a span of 128 meters between each column (to give an idea of the bridge's robustness, it survived the recent 2008 Wenchuan earthquake without the slightest damage). A 7-storey observation tower, crowned with a pagoda, is located at either end of the bridge, offering splendid views of the river itself and of Tortoise Hill (Gui Shan) on the Hanyang (northern/ western) side and of Snake Hill (She Shan) on the Wuchang (southern/ eastern) side of the Yangtze. The towers can be ascended by elevator or by staircase.
The towers of this handsome bridge, nothwithstanding the Soviet engineering influence in general, are constructed in a quintessentially Chinese fashion, exuding exquisite balance and harmony. The tower buildings as well as the 143 panes along each side of the bridge are decorated in traditional Chinese folkloric themes, such as the strutting peacock showing off its fine feathers, the blissful carp cavorting among lotus plants or the magpie singing at full throat on the branch of a plum tree in blossom.
* The Yangtze River is not called "mighty" without cause. Though it only edges ahead of the Mississippi River in the U.S. as the world's third-longest river by some 30 miles, and though it only drains an area corresponding to roughly half of the watershed of the Mississippi, the Yangtze's rate of flow, measured in terms of cubic meters per second at its mouth (the relevant point of measurement for a stream) is more than double that of the Mississippi. But in every other respect as well, the Yangtze is a very rugged river.
China specialist and writer Madeleine Lynn edited an anthology on the subject of the Yangtze River with, among works from other contributors, poems, travelogues and other musings by famous Chinese literati such as Su Dongpo, Xin Qiji, Du Fu, Li Bai, and Luo Guanzhong (considered as the author of the famous Yuan (CE 1279-1368) – Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty adventure epic, Romance of the Three Kingdoms), as well as contributions by the American-Chinese writer Pearl S. Buck and a host of other distinguished authors, both Chinese and non-Chinese. The book is aptly entitled: The Yangtze River: The Wildest, Wickedest River on Earth.