“The stone lions of Lugou Bridge – countless,” this two-part Chinese allegorical saying highlights the unique charm Beijing Lugou Bridge holds in Chinese society. Not only is the bridge where the Chinese nation opened the prelude to the war against Japan in the 1930s, but it is also an unparalleled “art museum collection of stone lions.” The 281 pillars of the bridge have been carved with a total of 501 lions, all in different forms. When were the lions carved? So far, no scientific research has been carried out to determine this. Thus, the Lugou Bridge Cultural Tourism Zone of Fengtai District, Beijing, decided to embark on a research to discover the dynastic sequence of the lions, which is expected to be completed in September this year.
According to historical records, the construction of Lugou Bridge began in 1189 and was completed in 1192. In 1961, the bridge and the adjacent County Wanping were listed in the first group of the country’s key protected cultural relics.
Over the past 800 years and more, Lugou Bridge has gone through the ravages of time, and hence the bridge is a collection of stone lions from different time periods. “The earliest ones were certainly carved when the bridge was constructed, and more were added during subsequent dynasties. In 1967, the bridge was widened and 91 lions on the columns were replaced. Moreover, due to traffic collisions, war destruction, weathering and other reasons, there has been consistent damage and repair,” said the head of the Lugou Bridge Cultural Tourism Zone. The bridge with the sculptures has been through the Jin Dynasty, Yuan Dynasty, Ming Dynasty, Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China, with the youngest stone lions being 20 years old.
“The bridge gained fame because it is considered to be where the China’s Resistance War against Japan began. However, it is also a museum of stone lions, as well as one of the Eight Scenes in Ancient Yanjing (another ancient name of Beijing) named “Moon at Lugou Bridge at Dawn.” It has a gentle and unique beauty to it.” The head of the local tourism zone said that Lugou Bridge, especially the stone lions, are precious materials for any historical study on stone lions of different times.
With the launch of the study, more experts, including Wu Menglin, a retired researcher of Beijing Art Museum in Stone Carving who even took part in a basic investigation on Lugou Bridge in the 1950s, were invited. Other experts include Liu Weidong and Fan Yiguang, both famous researchers of stone carving. The study will rely on the different styles of stone carving art, as known from different periods and combine this with relevant historical materials for a dynastic study of the stone lions.
“According to research on dynasties, stone lions carved in Jin Dynasty and Yuan Dynasty are comparatively thinner and smaller, with shining eyes and stuffed wide-open mouths. The lions carved in the Ming Dynasty also have large open mouths, but theirs are empty. As far as the stone lions in the Qing Dynasty are concerned, dark red stone has been used for their carving. In the period of the Republic of China, the craftwork of the stone lions is relatively rough,” said a staff member of the tourist zone. These research results will become the basis for studies of different dynasties.
Why not use Carbon 14 (C14) dating and other technology to explore the time sequence of the stone lions? The staff explained that this is complicated since some replacement or repair work, such as the project of replacing the columns in 1967, was using stones from ancient walls while their carving technique was modern. Therefore, the detection of C14 elements is not suitable for this study.
At the same time, digital protection work for the stone lions of Lugou Bridge will also be launched, which not only include the stone lions but also the railings, ornamental columns and pavilions.
“We will utilize 3D scanning technology for establishing digital archives of the stone lions,” said the staff. Previously, most archives of the stone lions include just photographs - planar and simple. At present, visitors to the bridge are only allowed to observe three sides of the stone lions, while barriers restrict them from viewing the back of lions. However, the back hair, ribbons and tail patterns are high valuable and appreciable. With the establishment of digital archives, visitors will be able to see the stone lions of Lugou Bridge in their complete three-dimensional form.
Translated by Duan Taotao
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