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Waibaidu Bridge

Add:on the north end of and in parallel with the Bund


Every great city has its landmark bridge. London has its Tower Bridge, San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge. What about Shanghai? In the minds of many locals, the honor should go to the centennial Waibaidu Bridge (Garden Bridge). For more than a century, the graceful steel Waibaidu Bridge has remained one of the best preserved symbols of Shanghai.

Waibaidu Bridge is the first all-steel bridge in China, and the only surviving example of a camelback truss bridge. The fourth foreign bridge built in the downstream of the estuary of Suzhou Creek, near its confluence with the Huangpu River and adjacent to the Bund in central Shanghai, and connecting Huangpu and Hongkou districts, the present bridge was opened on 20 January, 1908.Seen from any angle, the bridge is an appealing site. To its south is the city's fabled Bund, to its north there is the Shanghai Mansions, formerly called Broadway Mansions, and the Russian consulate-general building.

The history of the bridge can be traced to the mid 1850s when the city had just opened to the outside world. At that time, ferry boats remained the only means of transport connecting the city's south and north across Suzhou Creek.

The ferries, however, failed to meet the sharply increasing demand for transportation as people from across the country kept migrating to the city.

In 1856, a British businessman surnamed Welles, along with several other British and American bankers, set up a bridge company. The company built a wooden bridge at the confluence of Suzhou Creek and Huangpu River. The Welles Bridge, as it was called, was built to earn money: every Chinese person who wished to use the bridge had to pay a toll of one copper coin while privileged foreigners did not need to pay anything. 

Chinese people responded to the discriminatory toll with anger, and boycotted it, rendering the bridge non-profitable. Finally in 1873, the bridge company had no other choice but to sell Welles Bridge to the Shanghai Municipal Council (SMC). The SMC dismantled the short-lived bridge in the same year.

In August 1873, the SMC built a floating bridge several meters west of Welles Bridge. The floating bridge was free for all people, Chinese and foreigners alike.

The floating bridge, however, did not last long either. In 1906, it was dismantled to make way for a stronger crossing. The steel bridge was completed in 1907. Chinese people called the bridge "Waibaidu Bridge." The Chinese word "baidu" means free ferry, and "wai" means outer since the bridge was close to the former outer ferry on the creek. Foreigners called it "Park Bridge" because it was close to Public Park, now Huangpu Park.

In 1985, all the paint was scraped off, and then the bridge was re-painted. In the 1980s to 1990s the traffic volume on the Bund increased dramatically, and the then 90-year-old Waibaidu Bridge could no longer cope. In 1991, Wusong Floodgate Bridge, a new concrete road bridge, was constructed to the west, and traffic was mainly diverted onto the new bridge.

In the middle of 1999, the 91-year-old bridge was restored to its full beauty, glory and strength. In the new century, the bridge is still sturdy and ready again to endure the elements and the busy traffic.

In December 2007, Waibaidu Bridge celebrated its centenary. Despite its 100 years of use, the bridge recently passed a quality test which showed it would have been safe to use for at least 30 years.

As early as March 2007 it was decided to strengthen the bridge due to concerns that construction of a nearby tunnel could damage the structure. The restoration plan announced its key concept as "restoring and reinforcing the original style." City engineers tracked down the original blueprints, which were written in English.

From late February to early April 2008, Waibaidu Bridge was cut into two sections, detached from its piers, and moved by boat into a shipyard in Pudong for extensive repairs and restoration.

 The restoration project required 205 tons of steel. Some of the original components will go on display at museums in Shanghai. The iron handrails and the cement pavements have been replaced with wooden ones, and the triangular truss have been replaced with an arc, as it was in 1907. The restored bridge stands on new concrete piles that are wider and deeper than the original wooden supports and is expected to have a safe lifespan of at least another 50 years.

 The restored bridge was reopened to pedestrians on 8 April 2009. It was the most in-depth restoration effort since Waibaidu Bridge was built in 1907. One of the improvements was the installation of an LED lighting system, which cycles through different colors, and was also designed to reduce electricity consumption and make the bridge more attractive at night.