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Peking University Landmark: The Alumni Bridge

AUG . 18 2021
Peking University, August 18, 2021: The Alumni Bridge (校友桥) is 15m long and 4m wide and it is the first landmark you would see upon entering the historical and picturesque West Gate of Peking University. One of the biggest bridges in Peking University, it is also dubbed the Grand Bridge of the West Gate (西门大桥) or the Scholars' Bridge (状元桥). Built in 1926, it is a three-arch stone bridge (三孔圆券石拱桥). It is said that the stone slabs of this bridge were painstakingly transported piece by piece from Yuanming Yuan (Old Summer Palace is around 3-4km away) and then reconstructed with concrete.


Amongst the many bridges in Peking University, it is said to be the grandest of them all and the one which would often leave the deepest impression amongst visitors. Spanning the width of the rectangular pond, the Alumni Bridge is stately yet intricately-designed and the stone guardrails on both sides of the bridge make it an ideal destination to view the changing of seasons. Whether it be admiring the fishes in Spring or observing the thick snowfalls during Winter, this bridge would leave one with serene calm. In the past, vehicles could pass through this bridge but today the West Gate only allows vehicular entry when the school receives distinguished guests.

Architecture

The stone guardrails of the bridge are adorned with designs of heavenly clouds, done in the Qing Dynasty style and there are 12 square stone balustrades. The top of the balustrades appear to be almost square-shaped and are carved with designs of the Ruyi Scepter, a decorative item in Chinese folklore that symbolizes good fortune. At the two ends of the bridge are drum-shaped bearing stones which symbolize power and good luck.

On the middle arch, you can see a stone-cast mythical creature named Gong Fu (蚣蝮). Rumored to be one of the nine descendants of the auspicious Dragon, its purpose is to prevent floods and to 'stabilize' the waters and ensure the safety of the waterway. Before the school was established, the current campus was a derelict garden and hence the teachers and students of Yenching University (the original occupants of the current campus) decided to convert the previous pond into a rectangular one in order to separate the West Gate (which used to be the Main Gate of the University) from the teaching blocks. On top of this, the school alumni decided to raise funds to build a bridge spanning this pond, hence the name 'Alumni Bridge'. The main purpose of this bridge was to link the East and the West side of the campus and to establish the main axes of the campus. The water that flows beneath the bridge comes from Wanquan River which stems from the west of Beijing via the Summer Palace. In fact, this river is the water source of the famed Weiming Lake in Peking University (to be introduced in another article).

Students' Memories of the Bridge

In the past, the rectangular pond which runs beneath the Alumni Bridge was where the Yenching University seniors would 'toss' their juniors in. This practice originated from the United States where seniors would throw the juniors into the pond as a form of mischief and as a form of friendliness. It was an act which propelled juniors and seniors to develop closer friendships and a jocular practice to incite excitement upon the arrival of a new school year.


The pond which runs beneath the bridge is also not to be belittled. Its upstream is linked to the pond in Minghe Garden and further up north it is also joined to the Lotus Pond (Hehua Chi) in Peking University. According to renowned Chinese historical geographer PKU Professor Hou Renzhi (1911-2013), who also was a Yenching University alumnus and academic, the rectangular pond was once the source of the Weiming Lake in Peking University.

Poetic Campus

The stately bridge, coupled with the running water beneath it, serves as a visitor's first impression of Peking University upon entering the West Gate. The old gingko tree beside it is now as a custodian of time. Right across from the West Gate is the school's most important building—which is the Administrative Building. In front of the majestic building are a pair of Chinese ceremonial columns (Huabiao) transported from Yuanming Yuan. This scenery is endearingly dubbed as Bei Guo Jiang Nan, juxtaposing the grandeur and majestic architecture closely associated with Northern China and the epitome of Southern China—Xiao Qiao Liu Shui (literally Small Bridge and Flowing Water).


This scenery left Hou Renzhi a deep impression which propelled him to refer to PKU as his spiritual home for the next few decades. "Upon entering the West Gate, half a mu of rectangular pond coupled with a stone bridge entered my gaze. At that time, there was water gushing out near the bottom of the bridge and this scenery made me happy from within." This picturesque scenery reminded him of a poem written by renowned Song Dynasty poet Zhu Xi (朱熹), which attests to the everlasting beauty and essence of the Alumni Bridge and its surrounding magnificent West Gate scenery.

Written by: Ng Joong Hwee
Edited by: Rose Li, Zhang Jiang
Photo credit to: Lv Chen, Zeng Liang, VCG