Traditional design and practices for building Chinese wooden arch bridges

Inscribed in 2009 (4.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

Country(ies): China



Traditional design and practices for building Chinese wooden arch bridges

Wooden arch bridges are found in Fujian Province and Zhejiang Province, along China’s south-east coast. The traditional design and practices for building these bridges combine the use of wood, traditional architectural tools, craftsmanship, the core technologies of ‘beam-weaving’ and mortise and tenon joints, and an experienced woodworker’s understanding of different environments and the necessary structural mechanics. The carpentry is directed by a woodworking master and implemented by other woodworkers. The craftsmanship is passed on orally and through personal demonstration, or from one generation to another by masters teaching apprentices or relatives within a clan in accordance with strict procedures. These clans play an irreplaceable role in building, maintaining and protecting the bridges. As carriers of traditional craftsmanship the arch bridges function as both communication tools and venues. They are important gathering places for local residents to exchange information, entertain, worship and deepen relationships and cultural identity. The cultural space created by traditional Chinese arch bridges has provided an environment for encouraging communication, understanding and respect among human beings. The tradition has declined however in recent years due to rapid urbanization, scarcity of timber and lack of available construction space, all of which combine to threaten its transmission and survival.


Decision 4.COM 14.03

The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, as follows:

  • U1: The traditional design and practices for building Chinese wooden arch bridges involve a unique handwork technique to build wooden bridges whose social and cultural functions continue to be cherished by local residents, who have engaged themselves in preserving this example of their cultural identity, even as the bridges’ practical traffic-bearing functions diminish;
  • U2: Although the craftsmen have regained esteem among community members who have awakened their interest for covered wooden bridges in the last decade, this exceptional technology is at risk of disappearing since the transmission process relies on few master bridge-building artisans who are aged, with little opportunity to pass on their ‘secret knowledge’ and experience to young carpenters orally and through apprenticeship;
  • U3: The safeguarding plan proposed, reflecting collaboration of local authorities, communities and the woodworking masters, is crucial to ensure the skill’s revitalization by investing intensively in the education of young trainees to strengthen transmission from generation to generation;
  • U4: The nomination reveals that there was a wide involvement in the nomination by national authorities as well as local officials of Pingnan, Shouning, and Zhouning Counties in Fujian Province, Qingyuan and Taishun Counties in Zhejiang Province, and by local communities and the representatives of the clans that are heirs of the craft, whose free, prior and informed consent is demonstrated;
  • U5: After having been included in the heritage inventories of the various counties in which this tradition remains active, the design and practices of bridge building were included on the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage administered by the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture.



© 2009 by Yuzhou Zhang

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