On the rare occasion it snows in Hangzhou (this Winter being an exception), people will flock to the Broken Bridge to take pictures, ignoring all falling tree branches, swerving drivers, or people trying to ice-skate on West Lake that each snow brings. But why is the Broken Bridge so important, and even moreso when it snows? Why isn't it broken when the name clearly states "Broken Bridge". Today, we will tell you a couple of quick facts about duàn qiáo (断桥).


1. The Name


broken-bridge-west-lake

It's clearly NOT broken... We checked.

The Broken Bridge has had many names over the course of history. In the Song Dynasty, it was called Baoyou Bridge (宝佑桥), which means something like precious blessing bridge. 
The Duan Family
During the Yuan Dynasty, the bridge was called duàn jiā qiáo (段家桥), meaning Duan Family Bridge, named after the Duan family which lived near there and sold alcohol for a living.
 
*According to legend, once an old man without a cent to his name came to the Duan house and asked if he could stay the night. The husband and wife felt bad for him, so they agreed to take him in. The Duan family fed him fish caught from West Lake and let him drink their alcohol. The man wasn't very polite to them and drank a bunch of their alcohol, after which he passed out on their couch (or whatever people passed out on back in the day).
passed-out

Party hard, party alone.

The next morning, the man hopped away, but not before leaving behind 3 pills that he promised would help make their alcohol taste better. And it did - the Duan family never had better tasting alcohol, and they became rich. 
One day during a heavy snow, the old man visited the Duan house again. Before he left, the Duan's wanted to thank him with some money, but he refused. Instead, he said his goodbyes and walked away. When he stepped on the Duan Bridge, it broke and he fell in the water. The Duan's rushed over to see where he was and they then saw the old man standing on the surface of the lake as if it were solid. He laughed and floated away. The Duan's then used their profits to build a better bridge (and probably to prevent more old-man gods or lawsuits).
Bet he had help

Bet he had help

Ok... So Why Broken Bridge?
Well, if you were paying attention before, you'll know that although the character for the Duan (段) family's name and the character for broken (断) is different, but their tones are the same (4th tone). Take that and...Eureka! It was easy for someone to come along and change the name because...

2. The Bridge Looks Broken from a Certain Spot (when it snows)


west-lake-broken-bridge-snow

Now I kind of see what you're sayin'

Actually, the full name of the Broken Bridge (ugh... so many names) is duàn qiáo cán xuě (断桥残雪), which actually gives a hint to why the bridge is said to be broken, if you read Chinese - when it snows, the bridge's surface is covered in white, which when reflecting the sun's rays and viewed from a certain (far) point, makes the thin middle part of the bridge seem to disappear, so it appears broken.
The Best Spot to See Broken Bridges
According to Baidu, the best spot to view the snowy West Lake and see the Broken Bridge "break" is Baoshi Mountain (宝石山). Baoshi Mountain is the one with Baochu Pagoda on top, accross from the Yellow Dragon Stadium. Pick a nice day to safely climb to the top and view the snow. Just DON'T try to skate in West Lake, because you won't be able to float like the old man, no matter how much magic alcohol you drink.
Categories: Travel

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