Described by the famous Venetian traveller Marco Polo in his book, the Lugou Bridge, as it is known in China, became internationally known by the adventurer's name. Written 20 years after his visit to Cathay, in The Travels of Marco Polo, the explorer described the bridge as a wonder of the orient, although his faulty memory played some tricks on him.
When you leave the City of Cambaluc and have ridden ten miles, you come to a very large river which is called PULISANGHIN, and flows into the ocean, so that merchants with their merchandise ascend it from the sea. Over this River there is a very fine stone bridge, so fine indeed, that it has very few equals. The fashion of it is this: it is 300 paces in length, and it must have a good eight paces of width, for ten mounted men can ride across it abreast. It has 24 arches and as many water-mills, and 'tis all of very fine marble, well built and firmly founded. Along the top of the bridge there is on either side a parapet of marble slabs and columns, made in this way. At the beginning of the bridge there is a marble column, and under it a marble lion, so that the column stands upon the lion's loins, whilst on the top of the column there is a second marble lion, both being of great size and beautifully executed sculpture. At the distance of a pace from this column there is another precisely the same, also with its two lions, and the space between them is closed with slabs of grey marble to prevent people from falling over into the water. And thus the columns run from space to space along either side of the bridge, so that altogether it is a beautiful object.
The Travels of Marco Polo, apud Historic Beijing in Pictures
Marco Polo did get a few things wrong. I can't blame him, it was a long time after his journey. He said the bridge had 24 arches instead of the actual 11. Then again, the bridge was destroyed and then reconstructed in 1698, 400 years or so after Polo's visit. Who knows what other modifications it went through over the years.
A very interesting thing about the Lugou bridge are the hundreds of lions sculpted all over. Legend says they are uncountable. Some have tried and say they are between 482 and 496. Originally were supposed to be 627. It's also important to note that not all lions were carved at once and were added along the centuries in different dynasties.
Just like in real life, there are basically two types of lions, the male and the female. But unlike the furry live animals, you can't tell the gender apart by the mane. It is what is under their foot that shows their sex. Male lions have balls (duh) under one paw and females have little cubs.
Now you might be asking yourself "how come there is no consensus on how many lions there are?" Shouldn't it be simple as taking the time and counting? Well, it's not that simple. You see, not only are some statues worn out with time, many lions are hidden, such as cubs popping out of their mothers mane or the ambiguous one at the beginning of the bridge.
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident and WWII
While westerners know this bridge because of Marco Polo - myself included-, this place is known for something completely different in China. It was exactly on this spot that the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II started in 1937. What about the invasion of Poland? Well, that happened in 1939. The two continental wars merged eventually.
On this bridge the Japanese attacked the town of Wanping, now a part of Beijing municipality. Bullet and cannon holes can still be seen on the fortress walls.
In China this place is very symbolic of the resistance against Japanese invasion. When I took these pictures, several families with older folks were there. Some of those men, visiting with their grandchildren, probably lived the war when they were kids. The Japanese committed unspeakable war crimes against the Chinese in Beijing, Jinan, Nanjing and several other places. The forces of Japan are said to have issued an order to not consider Chinese people human, therefore international war law would not apply to them (Haruko Taya Cook & Theodore F. Cook, Japan at War 1993 ISBN 1-56584-039-9, p. 153 apud Wikipedia).
The war only finished after American intervention and the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki with Japanese surrender in 1945. This part of history we all learn.
China's participation was the first to start, and the last to finish.