The grand canal circles around Suzhou City, forming a shape of “口”. On the left side below this shape lies the “Wannian”?Bridge. Facing “Xu”?Gate, there was a harbor near the bridge. It used to be a prosperous trading center with countless merchants and vessels coming in and out. According to “History of CangLang”(2), “Wannian”?Bridge was built in 1740.
According to folk tales, when emperor “QianLong”?in Qing dynasty came to Suzhou during his visit to the southern part of China, there happened to be a newly-constructed bridge waiting to be named. Locals hoped “Qianlong”?could come up with a name. Immediately after the request, a bride went on the bridge, murmuring “Bride crosses new bridge. Thousands years of wealth and millions years of Bridge.”?It inspired “Qianlong”?and he named the bridge “Wannian”?Bridge. “Wannian”?means millions of years.
There are many similar cases in which emperors naming various locations. Such phenomenon perfectly demonstrates that ancient emperors’?political autocracy further resulted in cultural autocracy. Besides being able to manipulate everything happening in his palace, emperors also had absolute control over folk culture. What’s also noteworthy is that this kind of cultural despotism was actually accepted and welcomed by common people. The names given by the emperors were by no means deprivation of their own naming rights. Instead, they were noble honors. The naming of different locations including bridges is only the most superficial representation of this kind of ideology. Under many other circumstances, even when the actions of emperors were radical and extreme, the majority of people still followed unconditionally.
The cultural value within “Wannian”?Bridge lies in its representation of emperors’?absolute rights under the ancient autocratic system and the ideology of common people. Standing on “Wannian”?Bridge and looking back at the distant past, one can sense the evolution of our political system clearly. The great disparities between the past and the present are indeed thought-provoking. ?
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