Longjin Roofed Bridge was established without any nails and enjoys the reputation of “No 1 Bridge in Southwestern Hunan”.In 1591, the ninth year of Wanli, in Ming Dynasty, the famous monk Kuanyun took the initiative to build this bridge. Destroyed and re-built for several times, it has always been the transportation fortress of Hunan-Guizhou highroad as well as a busy place with merchants and tourists. It was called “the first bridge of Chu (ancient Chu, including Hunan, Hubei, Jiangsu, Anhui, Zhejiang)”.
In the beginning of 1999, Longjin Bridge was rebuilt again and completed on November 7, in the same year. The rebuilt Longjin Bridge is 12.2 meters wide, 146.7 meters long, and the biggest roofed bridge all over the world. It is very special, because it is composed of huge stone frusta, wooden body, corridor and pavilion. The whole bridge is of all wooden structure, without any nails.
Longjin Roofed Bridge looks like a dragon across the river, very magnificent. It maintains well the architectural culture of Dong ethic groups and embodies the modern garden architecture arts. At the left side of the bridge, there stands “Tianhou Palace”, which is the biggest and best-preserved sea goddess temple in mainland China. The carving arts of the arched door as well as their stories are very unique.
Wind-and-Rain Bridge and Drum Tower
The Dong is an ethnic group of China with a population of over one million. The Dong people live mainly along the border area of Hunan, Guizhou and Guangxi.
The gate to a Dong village features a unique architectural style. It has a wooden structure, constructed with mortise and tenon joints, so that not a single nail is used. Every Dong village has a gate where locals welcome and see off visitors and guests. According to the local custom, all visitors or guests are presented with a bowl of wine before entering the gate. Those who receive wine from a girl, singing in an antiphonal style, must return her greeting in song. Those who cannot sing, or who fail to respond, are obliged to drink more wine. It is only after drinking that visitors qualify to become good friends of the Dong people. Within the local customs, visitors should present a gift of sentimental value to the girls who give them wine, to express their sincere thanks, and as a memento of the occasion.
The Wind-and-Rain Bridge in the Dong village we visited was constructed during the reign of Qing Emperor Jiaqing. It displays a skillful combination of the railing-style structure popular in Dong villages, and the Han Chinese architectural style of bridge construction. It has a wooden corridor, three pavilion-style pagodas, under which stand three halls housing the local gods. On the pinnacle of the highest pagoda are four dragons which guard its inner treasures, signifying that the Dong village is well protected by its surrounding mountains.
Dong villages are usually constructed either on mountain slopes or on flatland. Four of the Dong villages in Huangdu Township are built on mountain slopes with a stream nearby. A legend says that during the reign of Ming Emperor Yongle, four brothers settled in the area as it is surrounded by mountains on four sides. The mountains resembled four great dragons guarding treasure. So, over time, the four brothers built four villages, naming them Dragon-head Village, Dragon-tail Village, Spiraling Dragon Village and New Village.
Drum towers are the hallmarks of Dong villages. A drum tower consists of either three or five stories, the tallest being over a dozen stories. The ground floor is square, and from the uppermost point hangs a huge hide drum, hence, its name. The drum tower is regarded as the headquarters of a Dong village, a place where meetings are held, village matters are discussed, and mediation on disputes among villagers takes place. It is also an ideal place for villagers to gather when the season of hard labor ends, and for their recreational pursuits of pipa playing, story telling and singing. On festive occasions, it is also the place where guests are welcomed and seen off, where contests in antiphonal singing and reed-pipe wind instrument playing are staged, and where the lion and dragon dances are held. The two drum towers we visited in Huangtu Township were also built on mountain slopes.
Dong villagers live in pile dwellings. These unique buildings are stable, durable and effective in preventing any possible occasional attacks of wild animals and reptiles, and feature spacious first floors. Apart from the roof tiles, the three-story wooden structure dwellings are crafted entirely using mortise and tenon joints. On the first floor, domestic fowls and draught animals are housed; the central room on the second floor is a sitting room where the family members retire to cool off in summer, and where the women do household chores and the girls weave. To the right is the kitchen, and to the left, the bedroom of the older family members. On the third floor are bedrooms for the younger family members, which is also used to store grain. There is generally one family to a building, although nowadays, it is also quite common for several buildings to be linked up by corridors.
The Bonfire Party
We were fortunate enough to be invited to a long-table banquet put on by locals, one of the type held only on festive occasions. There is a story celebrating this festive occasion. It is said that when the famous Dong hero Wu Mian passed through a Dong village with his rebel troops, many of the village girls, in the spirit of hospitality, invited the hero to have dinner with them and their family members. As the hero hesitated, reluctant to reject any of these kind offers, one bright girl proposed that a long table be set up, and that each family should bring over its best dish. Thus all the families could both treat their hero and have the honor of dining with him. This tradition has carried on through the generations.
In line with the local custom, we visitors were asked to sit with the locals along the table. Opposite us sat some Dong girls and one young man from the Huaihua area dressed in the costumes they wore as members of a cultural performance troupe. To start the party, we all stood up, and sang a wine song, holding hands with the people on either our side. Those who did not feel confident at singing could nevertheless barely restrain themselves from dancing to the rhythm of the song. Everyone then emptied their cup of its cool, sweet wine, and the girls poured wine to the visitors one by one, singing a local melody. Some visitors had no alternative but to drink seven cups, since they found it difficult to refuse the local hospitality. I met one visitor who, apparently having no liking for alcohol, sneaked away, and stood on the periphery, enjoying the revelry from a safe distance.
The most favored local dishes are salted meat and salted fish, and are particularly delicious as they are made according to local methods originating from the Song Dynasty. The salted meat and fish are prepared three or five years in advance, the longest period being 30 to 40 years. As the banquet drew to its close, the Dong girls and young men sang us a farewell song.
That evening, we went to watch song and dance performances on spacious open ground where a bonfire brightly burned. The performers were all young Dong girls and men, who, after attending specialized training schools, gave a highly professional performance. Their songs and dances left with us an unforgettable memory of our trip to Huaihua.