In March, we visited Marco Polo Bridge (in Chinese, Luguo Qiao–which doesn’t have anything to do with Marco Polo but I forget what its actual Chinese meaning is). One of Jared’s professors from Peking University kindly took us there in his nice car and told us all about everything.
Unfortunately, he took us in the evening since we could get on the bridge for free after 6:30 or something, so the pictures are all kind of dark.
Apparently, westerners call it the Marco Polo bridge because they first heard about it when Marco Polo wrote about his travels in the 13th century. The bridge here now has been updated since the 11th century when the first one was built (apparently it needed renovations in the 17th century), but the lions decorating the edges and some of the stones in the middle are the original stones, I think.
Our guide told us that nobody knows exactly how many lions there are: people have tried to count them and come up with different numbers. I guess some of them have gotten worn away with time, so that doesn’t help either. This lion, for instance, has a little lion under its paw and another by its head–and every lion on the bridge is different.
Another thing Marco Polo Bridge is famous for is being the place where World War II started in China (also known as the Second Sino-Japanese War) in 1937. My Resident Historian (everyone should keep one on hand!) tells me that Americans don’t think of WWII as starting until their involvement in the war with Pearl Harbor in 1941, but that the official date should really be July 7, 1937 because that’s when Japan extended its invasion of China.
Apparently, the objective of the Japanese was not just the bridge over the river, but Wanping “city” at the other end of the bridge. (It’s really more like a fortress or castle, but our guide told us it was a city.)
The fortress was built a lot like Xi’an: city walls of nearly 30 feet thick, a series of gates and courtyards for the entrances(so when the enemy had broken through the first gate they’d be penned up like sheep and easy to kill), and guard towers directly on top of the gates. It’s quite a bit smaller, though.
On the outside walls of the castle, you can see the marks of the Japanese invasion. The walls are riddled with bullet holes and in some places scarred by cannon fire. But even a cannon can’t do much against a 30-foot wall.
Eventually the Japanese did capture the fortress of Wanping, and Marco Polo Bridge became known not just for its beauty, but for its tragedy.