Beijing Underound City (DiXiaCheng)
It is surprisingly that some foreigners to Beijing seem to know more about the Underground City than the local Beijing citizens. This subterranean complex is a relic of the Sino-Soviet conflict in 1969 over the Zhenbao Island in the Amur River (Heilongjiang), a time when Mao Zedong ordered the construction of the underground bomb shelters complex in the event of a Soviet attack. The designers apparently installed special ventilation systems with hatches against chemical attack and it is claimed that the tunnels and rooms ten meters underground were constructed by 70,000 workers in the early 1970s. The paranoia of that period called for forty percent of the population in Beijing to stay in the underground city and the remainder to be moved to neighboring hills.
The complex is said to cover an area of 85 sq km with a thousand anti-air raid structures. It is now claimed to have ninety entrances to modified shops, theaters, roller skating rinks, hotels, restaurants, schools reading rooms, factories, warehouse (even mushroom cultivation units and barber shops). The temperature is said to be at a constant 27 degree Celcius. It is mentioned that Mao and other leaders had a separate passage way to take them out of the city in the event of an attack on Beijing. Old Chinese documentary films made in the late 1970s do show Beijing dwellers growing mushrooms and raising chickens in the dimly lit tunnels.
At the famous shopping street of Wangfujing, the underground air raid shelters are now used for reasonably priced youth hostel, shopping and business centre, at Chongwen and Xuanwu for theaters, and at Qianmen for silk and carpet outlets. At the Xicheng area, the bomb shelter has been converted to a wholesale market of about a thousand stalls.
Despite the so many entrances, foreign visitors to see the original underground structure are only shown a small approved section through a small shop front in Qianmen south of Tiananmen. Apparently, locals are discouraged from entering the tourist approved site.
Our tourist guide took us to Qianmen where we entered a relatively quiet street with an ordinary shop carrying the signs “Underground City” in both Chinese and English. Through the small shop we immediately descended into a subterranean entrance with different passage-ways capable of taking three to four people abreast. There were quarters for soldiers, hospital, store rooms, conference rooms and other rooms. The air shaft was opened to show how the ventilation could be shut to protect against water and chemicals. Various tunnels had directions pointing to Nanjing and Tianjin. Interestingly, though somewhat unbelievable, the guide mentioned that the underground passage from Beijing can run all the way to Tianjin. The end point of the tour was a silk factory making quilts and a commentary on the double cocoon silk.
For those interested to see part of the Underground City, the address is 62 West Damochang Street, Qianmen, Tel. 6702-2657, 6701-1389. Apparently, another site is at Beijing Qianmen Carpet Factory at 44 Xingfu Dajie, Chongwen District, Tel. 6701-5079. One can also try a lesser known site at 18 Dazhalan Jie at Qianmen.
For more than 20 years, Beijing’s Underground City, a bomb shelter just beneath the ancient capital’s downtown area, has been virtually forgotten by local citizens, despite being well-known amongst foreigners since its official opening in 2000.
The Underground City has also been called the Underground Great Wall, since they had the same purpose: military defense. This complex is a relic of the Sino-Soviet border conflict in 1969 over Zhenbao Island in northeast China’s Heilongjiang River, a time when chairman Mao Zedong ordered the construction of subterranean bomb shelters in case of nuclear attack.
The tunnels, built from 1969 to 1979 by more than 300,000 local citizens and even school children, wind for over 30 kilometers and cover an area of 85 square kilometers eight to eighteen meters under the surface. It includes around a thousand anti-air raid structures.
To supply construction materials for the complex, centuries-old city walls and towers that once circled ancient Beijing were destroyed. The old city gates of Xizhimen, Fuchengmen, Chongwenmen and others remain in name only – only two embrasured watchtowers from Zhengyangmen and Deshengmen survived.
In the event of attack, the plan was to house forty percent of the capital’s population underground and for the remainder to move to neighboring hills, and it is said that every residence once had a secret trapdoor nearby leading to the tunnels.
Address: No.62, West Damochang Street, Qianmen, Chongwen District
Opening Hours: 9:00 to 16:30
Admission Fee: RMB 20