Mesny’s Bridge at Chong’an

David LeffmanMesny, Zhou Dawu Leave a Comment

During the Sichuan Army’s two-year campaign against the Miao at Chong’an, they had been repeatedly slowed by having to ferry themselves across a deep, unbridged gorge just west of town. In 1874 Mesny wrote in the Shanghai Courier how he was designing a chain-link suspension bridge over the chasm, which lay on the main post road between Hunan and Guiyang:

“The bridge will have a span of 190 feet, with a width of 10 feet, and will be 56 feet (all Chinese measurements) above the level of the lowest water. The quantity of iron used will be about 60,000 catties, and will cost altogether less than Tls. 10,000. The cost will be paid by [Zhou Dawu], whose orders I am awaiting to commence the work, should he approve of the plans which are on a new principle of which your humble servant claims to be the inventor.”

The initial idea was to forge the iron for the chains at the Guiyang armoury from old military scrap, and then cart it over the hills to Chong’an, but by early March it had been decided to use local iron ore smelted on-site. Typically, Mesny left Guiyang shortly afterwards and never saw the completed bridge, which still crosses the Chong’an river. The chains were so well made that they have never rusted, even after nearly a century and a half in the open.

A memorial tablet at the bridge today translates, in part:

“Iron suspension bridge, built in the twelfth year of the Qing Tongzhi reign (1873). During the Miao insurgency in Guizhou, the Viceroy Zhou Dawu (aka Zhou Weichen) led his troops to the Chong’an River, but were unable to cross as the soldiers’ route was blocked during the Spring flooding, leaving Zhou burning with impatience. When the insurgency was pacified, Zhou donated 12,000 taels towards building this bridge, beginning in October, and finishing the following June.”

 

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