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The Firsts and Pioneers

First Road and Railway Bridge in China

 

 

To build a bridge over the Chien Tang River was for a very long time a dream of the Chien Tang community. It had remained a dream because of the spectacular strong currents and fast flowing sand at the bottom of the river bed. The Chien Tang River Bridge was eventually, built and erected, in which the effort of Peiyang University must not be forgotten.
The first person who should be mentioned is Zeng Yangfu, who was determined to fulfill the dreams of the Chien Tang community. Zeng Yangfu (1898-1969), graduated from the Department of Mining and Metallurgy of Peiyang University. He was the Head of the Construction Department of Zhejiang in 1931.
The budget for the construction was estimated to be five million silver dollars taels, which was a huge amount even for the Nanjing Government, and the provincial government of Zhejiang. Facing the difficulties, Zeng Yangfu reached out to different sources, including six central and provincial banks, and finally raised enough funds for the construction. He then looked for an appropriate professional, and after some deliberation, invited Mao Yisheng, a specialist in bridge construction to design and build the bridge.
Mao Yisheng (1896-1989) was President of the Engineering Course College of Peiyang University. To build a bridge over the Chien Tang River, Mao Yisheng had many concerns, but in his discussions with Zen Yangfu, he realized how passionate Zen Yangfu was, so he resigned from his teaching position and started the project to construct the bridge.
At the beginning, numerous technical problems emerged. Mao Yisheng was invited by Zeng Yifu who was transferred by then to the position of Deputy Minister of Government Administration of the Ministry of Railways, and Chairperson of the New Road Construction Committee to visit Nanjing. Zeng said to Mao, “I have total faith in you. But, if the bridge fails to be built, you are going to jump into the Chien Tang River, and I’ll jump in after you!” Mao did not say anything, but returned to Hangzhou immediately and started planning the construction.
The Chien Tang River has extremely strong currents, and unpredictable and complex changes in the river bed with thick layers of drift sand. In those days, under such circumstances, it was almost an impossible mission to build such a bridge. Mao Yisheng once said, “I was asked to do something that was clearly not possible, and I was not allowed to fail”. Somehow he still managed to tackle a series of difficult problems with innovative solutions. For example, he used the jet method to deal with the hard and thick layers of drift sand for the piling and laying of the foundation. He used the caisson method to solve the problems brought about by the turbulent currents. He used the float method, taking advantage of high and low tides, to construct the steel beams over the pier. He also invited Wang Tao, the Concrete Master, to help make anti-corrosive concrete. In summing up, the difficulties he overcame it would account for some eighty issues. When his mother heard about this, she joked that the bridge-building process was facing “eighty one ordeals”.
When the bridge was almost finished in 1937, the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression broke out. On August 14, three Japanese bombers flew over the construction site. The war had extended to the brink of the Chien Tang River. Regardless of the bombing and flying bullets, the construction workers worked tirelessly day and night. Eventually, the first road and railway bridge, exclusively designed and built by the Chinese, was erected over the river. In the early morning of September 26, the first train was driven on the bridge. Later numerous trains would continue to be driven on the bridge, carrying and delivering supplies and ammunitions.
The Kongmingtang army could not ward off the Japanese invasion. In the afternoon of November 16, a confidential file was issued by the Nanjing government, conveying the order to blow up the Chien Tang River Bridge. Mao Yisheng was in indescribable pain, but still decided to proceed with the explosion plan, only for the sake of the war. On November 17, the bridge was put in full operation. Thousands of people came from Hangzhou, Ningbo, and other faraway places. They gathered on the river-band, Even the Six Harmonies Pagoda was filled with people. When the first car drove by, thousands of people cheered and clapped. But who would have known, at that time, hundreds of kilos of explosives were placed under the bridge.
In the evening of December 23, 1937, as the Japanese troops passed on the bridge, a loud bang could be heard from the bridge resulting in six sections been blown up.. The furious Mao Yisheng wrote down his resolution, "win the war of resistance, and rebuild the bridge”. After winning the war, the bridge was rebuilt and put in use again.
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