03 October 2010

More information about CK and the bridge

As the trip approaches, it is clearer than ever that the bridge we are seeking--the Chang Kan bridge over the Mekong (aka Lancang) River in Yunnan P.--does still exist.

My uncle unearthed temporarily forgotten translations of information from websites in Chinese that were given to him while he was in China on his family's visit in 2009.  The translations provide information about CK's education, his engineering endeavors in China, and his death, as well as information about the bridge and the area surrounding the bridge.

An article called "Bridge expert Chien Chang Kan" says that, from 1934-37, CK was a supervising engineer on the Qiantang River bridge at Hangchou. This bridge was the first bridge of steel construction over a major river in China, and, according to the information translated for my uncle, the first double decker bridge in China, having a road bed on top of a rail bed. My grandfather was "very much dedicated to its construction," and was "on the site from the beginning to finish," according to the translated Chinese website.

At almost the same time the Qiantang River bridge was being completed, the war with Japan broke out. The article goes on to say that the Nationalist government in Chongqing entrusted CK with the construction of a new bridge over the Mekong River for the Burma Road. The old bridge over the Mekong (or Lancang River, as it is called in China)--the Gongguo bridge--was not strong enough to handle the volume of traffic that was to travel the road. The bridge that CK designed and built had a span of 135 meters and was "China's first suspended road bridge with cables." Starting in February of 1939, it took 21 months to design and construct, being completed in November, 1940. In the process, many young Chinese engineers received valuable training, and CK's design for the bridge was replicated for many other crossings on the Burma Road. Unfortunately, before construction was completed, CK was killed when a plane he was traveling in was shot down in a Japanese air raid near Qujing, northeast of Kunming, and the bridge was destroyed by Japanese aerial bombs only 42 days after it was completed. The bridge was rebuilt, although not to the original specifications: The deck was remade with wood, the load bearing capacity was reduced, and the surface of the bridge reduced to one lane.

Another article, entitled "The Forever Unbreakable Cable Bridges on the Burma Road—The Gong Guo Bridge and The Chang Kan Bridge," corroborates some of the information from the previous article, and provides additional detail. The Chang Kan bridge was built 700 meters upstream of the Gong Guo bridge. The original Chang Kan bridge was completed November 4, 1940. All the materials for the bridge were obtained from the U.S. and were brought in over the Burma road. (An interesting detail: to bring the suspension cables in, coils of cable one meter in diameter were suspended on a pole between two workers and walked in from Burma.) From October 18, 1940 to February 17, 1941, sixteen bombing attacks were made on the Gong Guo and Chang Kan bridges. The bridges were severely damaged several times, but each time, the Chinese were able to rebuild the bridges in days.

A brief article, "The Chang Kan Bridge," states, "Before the current Yong Bao Bridge was built, the Chang Kan Bridge was the most important traffic bridge between the Baoshan area and the Dali area on the Lancang River." The article concludes by stating, "The Chang Kan Bridge is still in use."

A final article gives details about the Baofeng area--the area where the Chang Kan bridge is located. Baofeng Township is located in Yun Long County, Dali Prefecture, Yunnan Province. Most of the people living in the Baofeng area are of the Bai minority. They live and farm on the side of the steep mountain banks of the swiftly flowing Lancang River and along the Bi River, a tributary of the Lancang that runs through the township.  The area is widely forested, both with native trees and vegetation and with cultivated olive, chestnut, walnut, eucalyptus and bamboo.  The article states, "The Chang Kan Bridge lies in the south of the town—local people call it the 'unbreakable bridge.' The remains of the anti-aircraft positions are still present on top of the mountain."

While the websites are unknown and the translations are undated, they provide a clearer picture of the area we are to visit and evidence that the bridge is still there, waiting for us to arrive.

[Edited for grammar, spelling and clarity 10/4/10]

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