China and Inner Asia
Ohio State University, United States
Opened in December 1968, the Nanjing Yangzi River Bridge is the first modern bridge designed and constructed by the Chinese people independently after the Sino-Soviet split in 1960 and China’s only large-scale infrastructure completed during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). A prevailing and prestigious icon of Mao-era (1949–76) visual and material culture, the bridge was celebrated as a modern architectural spectacle and a new political emblem signaling the revolutionary leadership of the working class under Mao’s regime. This paper positions the monument’s construction in the sociopolitical and cultural landscape of the early decades of the People’s Republic of China and seeks to decode its multifaceted meanings by examining the reproduction of its image in ink paintings, propaganda posters, photographs, and everyday objects. I aim to detail the Nanjing Bridge’s dual identity as a megaproject that spatially connects the northern and southern territories of China and an ideological structure that temporally links the past, present, and future. My analysis engages two pictorial formulas, the first of which features the solo appearance of the bridge in panorama. Through picturing its monumental grandeur, nighttime electrical illumination, and road and railway traffic, the first group of images captures the technical sublime of socialist engineering and industry and envisions a socialist future of modernization. The second representational strategy is exemplified by collages that juxtapose the structure with an architectural monument of the past (The Great Wall), contemporary industrial and scientific breakthroughs, and a fleeting symbol of the Cultural Revolution (Mao’s golden mangoes).