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  • Cherish the Memory of Chinese People’s Old Friend K.S. Silin

Cherish the Memory of Chinese People’s Old Friend K.S. Silin

作者: Niu Yingli

  Silin and the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge   On October 15, 1957, in the three towns of Wuhan, millions of people rejoiced at the completion and opening to traffic of the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge―the first bridge over the Yangtze River. Amid the deafening noise of firecrackers, sound of gongs and drums and people’s cheers, the first train sped across the railway deck of the bridge and 340 automobiles drove slowly through the broad highway deck. The spectacular scene at the traffic-opening ceremony fully reflected the Chinese people’s pride in the bridge.
  The Yangtze River with deep water and rapids is the longest river in China. For thousands of years no one had ever been able to build a bridge over it. The River was a natural barrier cutting off the communication and transport link between the north and the south. To build a bridge over the Yangtze River was the Chinese people’s age-old dream.
  After the founding of new China, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, at its first meeting in 1950, adopted the motion on building the Yangtze River Bridge. In January 1954, the State Council approved the “Decision on Building the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge”. In July of the same year, a 28-member expert group headed by K. S. Silin sent by the Soviet Union came to China to give technical aid. On September 1, 1955, the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge formally started construction.
  This was Silin’s third time to come to China. In the summer of 1948, he, as an expert in bridge engineering, was invited to the Northeast. Braving hardships and dangers, he together with the soldiers of the PLA railway engineering corps removed the mines planted by the Kuomintang army when they were hastily retreating and rush-repaired the damaged roadbeds and bridges day and night so that the PLA army could marched without hindrance and liberate the whole China. During that time he made outstanding contributions to repairing the Second Songhua River Bridge. In 1949 he, as advisor to the Chinese Ministry of Railway, came to China for the second time. During these hard years, he worked shoulder to shoulder with the Chinese railway constructors and forged profound friendship with them. He had been to the Songliao Plain, the Central Region, the Longnan Plateau and the Sichuan Basin, participated in the construction of bridges for the Chengdu-Chongqing Railway, the Tianshui-Lanzhou Railway, and the Lanzhou-Xinjiang Railway and been to the battlefront of the Korean War…
  This time he came to Wuhan as head of the Soviet bridge experts’ group. He was very happy to meet again his Chinese colleague Peng Min, who had worked with him when repairing the Songhua River Bridge and now served as director of the Engineering Bureau of the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge. The Chinese and Soviet bridge experts together with the Chinese constructors undertook the historical mission to build the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge.
  At the stage of the bridge’s technical design, the experts met with serious difficulties. Because of deep water and torrents of the Yangtze River, they couldn’t use the pneumatic caisson method planned in the initial design to build the bridge pier foundation. At the critical moment, Silin boldly put forward a completely new method for building the deep-water foundation―large-sized tubular column drilling method, by which the difficulties that could not be overcome by traditional pneumatic caisson method could be overcome, and the construction could be carried out over water instead of under water. Under much better working conditions, the construction could be completed much earlier and the costs much reduced. This was a completely new technology for the construction of deep-water foundation projects. After careful study and repeated expounding and proving by the Chinese and Soviet experts, the Chinese Government decided to adopt Silin’s method. Later Silin said, “Since then I’ve taken root in the Chinese soil.”
  To build the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge, the Chinese Government mobilized the whole nation and built up a work force consisting of excellent scientists and technicians from all parts of the country and tens of thousands of building workers, who despite the intense heat of summer and severe cold of winter worked hard day and night in no fear of violent storms and terrifying floods and waves, displaying an extraordinary heroic spirit. In those difficult days, Silin threw all his energy into the work. For the sake of work, he declined the arrangement made by the Bridge Engineering Bureau for him to live in the comfortable guest house for experts and insisted on living at the construction site, being one with the Chinese and Soviet technicians and workers. Whether it was a snowy winter night or a scorching hot summer day, he could always be found wherever there was danger or difficulty. His technical competence, modest attitude, unflagging energy, and great enthusiasm earned him the respect and love of the masses of bridge building workers. Because of years of fieldwork and overwork, he suffered from serious rheumatic-arthritis. But he did not stop working even when he was in hospital for treatment. When the construction was at crucial moments, he resolutely came back to the construction site.
  In autumn 1957, after two years and one month of hard work, the bridge was finally completed. The “natural barrier” was conquered by the new generation of the Chinese people. Chairman Mao Zedong wrote a poem acclaiming the Yangtze Bridge: “A bridge will fly to span the north and south, turning a deep chasm into a thoroughfare.” The Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge as an epoch-making monument of bridge building in new China went down in history. The Bridge linking main lines of communication across the north and south of the great river has become the central hub of railway and highway transportation. The completion of the Bridge also promoted the rapid development of the industrial city Wuhan. Thanks to the adoption of this non-caisson method, the time required for the construction of the giant project was shortened by two years, saving large sums of funds for the country.
  On October 16, 1957 People’s Daily carried the front-page headline of “Age-Old Dream of Trains Passing Across the Yangtze River Realized, Millions of People Jubilant at the Bridge’s Opening to Traffic” to spread the good news all over China. The State Council conferred upon Silin the certificate of gratitude signed personally by Premier Zhou Enlai. On the monument at the bridgehead, copper-cast words recorded the contributions made by Silin and other Soviet experts.
  During the construction and after the completion of the bridge, Comrade Silin received many letters from Chinese people, quite a few of whom he did not know. These letters are now still kept at Silin’s home. One of the letters wrote: “My son happened to be born on the day when the bridge was open to traffic. To commemorate the event and express our gratitude to the aid given to China by the great Soviet people, and to the contributions made by you and other Soviet experts, I decide to rename my son Silin―my dear comrade’s name which will always remain in the memory of my whole family. Please allow me to say that it is completely and absolutely out of our respect for you that I do so.”
  After the completion of the bridge, Silin returned to the Soviet Union in November 1957 and worked in the Soviet Academy of Transportation Engineering and served as director of the Moscow Institute of Railway Engineering. Owing to his outstanding talents and achievements, he won honours that he deserved and got many titles such as Soviet and Russian master of bridge engineering, the hero of socialist labour, awardee of Order of Lenin, Russian outstanding inventor, academician of the International Academy of Engineering, academician of the Russian Federation Transport Academy, doctor of science and technology, professor, etc. For many years he served as council member of the Soviet-Chinese Friendship Association and the Russia-China Friendship Association, actively participated in social activities and did much useful work for promoting friendship between the Russian and Chinese people. Silin once said that in his life he had built many bridges in the world, but what he treasured most was the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge. “China is my second motherland. I often miss her.”
  In the 1980s and the 1990s invited by the CPAFFC and other Chinese organizations, Silin visited China many times. In 1995 the CPAFFC decided to confer the honorary title of Friendship Ambassador upon him and once again invited him to visit China. Silin happily accepted the invitation and replied that he would come to China in April 1996. On February 5, 1996, from Moscow came the sad news that Comrade Silin passed away. He completed his busy and rich life and left us hurriedly without having time to see again his beloved China, to say goodbye to the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge, the fruit of his many years’ painstaking work, and to personally receive the certificate of Friendship Ambassador.
  Konstantin Sergeyevich Silin (1913-1996) was buried in the old Kalitnikovskoe Cemetery in Moscow. On the front side of the black marble tombstone, there is a picture of serenely smiling Silin, and on its back side there is a picture of the magnificent Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge.
  After half a century’s severe tests, the bridge still stands solid as a rock on the rolling Yangtze River. It is a monument that records the friendship between the Soviet and Chinese people and Soviet experts’ profound friendly sentiments towards the Chinese people. On the occasion of marking the 50th anniversary of the bridge’s opening to traffic, we deeply cherish the memory of K.S. Silin, faithful friend of the Chinese people and worthy son of the Russian people, and all the Soviet experts represented by him, and of their great contributions.
  Silin Family’s Love of China
  In March 1996, a month after Silin passed away, entrusted by the CPAFFC, I accompanied Comrade Gao Mang, writer and senior advisor to the China-Russia Friendship Association (CRFA), went to Silin’s home to see K. V. Silina, wife of Silin, and other family members.
  Silina, over eighty years old, lived and worked with Silin in China in the 1950s. We conveyed to her and her family deep sympathy and condolences of the CPAFFC and CRFA leaders. The kind old lady, restraining her sadness at the passing away of her husband, held our hands tightly saying, “Thank you for coming to see us. Thank the Chinese people for still remembering Silin. We will never forget the extraordinary days we spent in China…”She wiped out her tears with a handkerchief from time to time. The whole family sat around her and her daughter held the old lady’s shoulder lightly with her arm, silently comforting her. Although 11 years have passed, I still remember the scene clearly.
   Both Silin’s daughters have achieved high attainment in science and technology. The elder daughter Elena is a professor and director of the teaching and research section of the Russian State Open Technical University of Railways, and the younger daughter Anna is an associate professor and director of the Scientific Research Department of the Moscow Institute of Municipal Economy and Construction. In their childhood, the two sisters lived with their parents and studied in China. In their hearts they always keep their love of China. When studying in Beijing in the 1950s Elena once served as a team leader of the Young Pioneers and on behalf of the Soviet children presented flowers to Chairman Mao Zedong, which left a deep impression and happy memories on her. Elena said, “Over several decades, my father’s deep love of China has seeped into the heart of every family member. The word ‘China’ is sacred in our family.”
   In his lifetime Silin always had a wish: In his family there must be a child who should study Chinese so as to carry on the cause of Russia-China friendship. At his proposal, his granddaughter Katia who with excellent academic record had been enrolled into the Department of Geography of Moscow State University took Chinese language as an elective course. In April 1996, at the invitation of the CPAFFC, the university sophomore accompanied Ivan Arhipov, honorary president of the RCFA, and others visited China. CPAFFC President Chen Haosu handed her the certificate of the honorary title of Friendship Ambassador conferred on Comrade Silin, and asked her to give it to Silina and convey the Chinese people’s sincere regards to the old lady. Chen also encouraged Katia to study Chinese well to carry on the behests of the older generation and continue to develop China-Russia friendship. The Hubei Provincial People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries warmly received the descendant of our old friend Silin and arranged for Katia to attend classes for a short period in the Department of Geography at the Wuhan Huazhong Normal University. In this strange but also familiar city, Katia saw for herself the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge that her grandfather had missed day and night, and experienced the Chinese people’s memory and praise of her grandfather. Later she came to China twice to take advanced studies in Peking University. Both her graduation thesis and deputy doctoral thesis related to China’s geography and ecology.
   Katia did not fail to live up to her grandfather’s expectation. After years of assiduous study, her professional knowledge and Chinese have been improved greatly. Several years ago, she successfully defended her deputy doctoral thesis and now is an associate professor with the Department of Geography of Moscow State University. She has a happy family and a lovely daughter named Nastia. Katia who now can use Chinese fluently loves China deeply and is passing this love to her husband and daughter. During a short vacation in 2005 she and her husband Dima took a trip to China. When I met them in Beijing, Katia who liked to take pictures very much said to me with a grin, “We have brought our daughter’s pictures with us. When we had photos taken at the scenic spots such as the Great Wall and the Huangshan Mountain, we always held Nastia’s picture. My daughter is too small now. When she grows up, we will bring her to China to see for herself this great country, the Yellow River, the Yangtze River, and the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge that grandfather missed very much in his lifetime.”
  In September 2006, the CPAFFC and the China Association for Science and Technology invited the descendants of the Russian old friends to China to take part in the get-together of Chinese and Russian old, middle-aged and young scientists at the Great Hall of the People. Elena, Anna and Katia all came. They said excitedly, “China is the place that our family most yearns for.” Professor Elena, on behalf of the descendants of the Russian experts who helped China’s construction in the 1950s, gave a warm speech. When we asked after her mother Silina, Elena answered with a smile, “The old lady is to be 94 years old. She is all right in health, but her memory is not as good as it was before. But whenever she heard us talk about China, she would become garrulous saying, ‘I want to go to China. Why don’t you ever bring me along with you to China?’”
  I remember that on January 9, 2003, the 90th birthday of Silina, CPAFFC President Chen Haosu, on behalf of the CPAFFC and the CRFA, sent her a letter of congratulations. It says, “Dear Kaleriya Vladimirovna, we will never forget Comrade Silin’s great contributions to China’s socialist construction and the cause of China-Russia friendship, and will forever treasure the profound friendly sentiments of you and your family towards the Chinese people. We believe that the friendship between the Chinese and Russian people will pass on from generation to generation just as the Yangtze River rolls on and surges ahead forever.”


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