A Window into the Past: The Jade Belt Bridge

Looking through the narrow scope of history textbook passages, it is often difficult to associate the events of the past with the impact they have had on the lives of real people during that era.   One must go beyond the story-like manner that history is presented and delve into the truth in a vividly intimate way to gain a comprehensive understanding.  Postcards, which join word and image, act as this bridge of knowledge.  History comes alive as postcards open countless windows into a broader collective past.  The past becomes tangible by connecting similar human experiences from then and now.  Through the image of a postcard, technological, social, political, cultural, and artistic developments can chronicled in a succinct way.  Yet, postcards did not merely record or represent a dynamic era; they also participated actively in it.

Backdropped against a beautiful landscape of rolling mountains and placid lakes, the postcard of the Jade Belt Bridge in Beijing, China allows individuals to become intimately entangled in history.  For me and Eleanor Nothelfer, it incited a quest for knowledge.  Lacking any indicative markers  disclosing the name or location of this particular bridge, I looked toward Eleanor Nothelfer, Class of 1980, retired from Civil and Environmental Engineering Department after 42 years of service, for assistance.  Immediately, she recognized the bridge as a pedestrian Moon bridge located on the Summer Palace in China from a trip she had taken in the 80’s with Lehigh’s Engineering Department.  Not only had she visited the foreign bridge from the postcard I was examining, but she in fact had walked on it herself, noting the steepness of the bridges’s incline.  It is thanks to her experiences and her passion for architecture and civil engineering that the mystery was somewhat solved and my pursuit for further research began.

Jade Belt Bridge

Delving into the history of this fascinating historical feat of architecture, I discovered that Jade Belt Bridge, also known as the Camel’s Back Bridge, was commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, which was eventually completed in 1764.  Adhering to the principle of form following function, this bridge displays a distinctive tall thin single arch in order to accommodate passage of the dragon boat during special occasions and folk customs.  Carvings of cranes and other animals line the ornate bridge railings made of marble and white stone.  Truly, it is beauty to behold.

By Daniella Fodera


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