A creation from a time of nuclear paranoia, Beijing’s underground city sits in decay. A testament to a time long passed, its white tunnels were once a tourist attraction. However, now it sits dormant as it undergoes restoration to one day be opened again. It was one of the only places to get a feel for the cold war history of the east.It is also a tourist attraction which not many people know about but peaks interest the second it is mentioned. What exactly is the underground city? Who builds it? Why? Read on as we answer your questions on one of the world’s most secret attractions.
What Exactly is it?
Ok, let’s start with the basics. The underground city is a cold war era bomb shelter, located beneath Beijing. The shelter was built between 1969 to 1979 in anticipation of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. It was opened in 2000 for visitors to experience what life hypothetically would have been like had the shelter been used. It has been described cold, damp and genuinely eerie.
Where is it?
Dixia Cheng (as it is correctly known) runs directly underneath Beijing’s city centre. It covered an area of 85 square kilometres and was 8 to 18 metres deep. At one time there were about 90 entrances to the complex, all of which were hidden. Many of the entrances have since been blocked off for reconstruction. If you wish to check out the entrances which are still known you can see them at the following locations; 62 West Damochang Street in Qianmen, Beijing Qianmen Carpet Factory at 44 Xingfu Dajie in Chongwen District, and 18 Dazhalan Jie in Qianmen. However, it is important to stress that you cannot enter it and we do not recommend trying.
What’s it like inside?
It really is hard to tell. No official disclosure has been made about the tunnels and some parts fell into disrepair, hence the ongoing reparations. The tunnels themselves seem to stretch for miles and miles which to many tourists gave them an uneasy feeling of being unable to escape. There was (up until it closed) a lot of propaganda and shrines dotted throughout which made for some really interesting viewing as you walked around! Now, we know that the tunnels were never used (thank god), but if they were needed they were very well equipped.
The complex contained facilities such as restaurants, clinics, schools, theatres, factories, a roller skating rink, grain and oil warehouses, and a mushroom cultivation farm. So, those in the shelter wouldn’t be short of things to do. There were also almost 70 sites where water wells could be tapped. Elaborate ventilation systems were also installed, with 2300 shafts that can be sealed off to protect the tunnels’ inhabitants from poison gases, protecting the tunnels from biochemical attacks and nuclear fallout. It remains how much of this will be on display and in what state once the attraction re-opens.
What was the tour like?
The tour only allowed visitors to see a section of the complex. While it was popular for visitors it wasn’t the busiest of attractions and the locals almost completely ignored its existence. The small route you could complete in the tunnels was dotted with worn slogans like “Dig deep, store grain, don’t claim to be an emperor.” and “For the People: Prepare for War, Prepare for Famine.” You were also able to look at the bedrooms and could see how the tunnels could be converted to a silk factory.
One thing is for certain we hope this underground city opens up to the public soon. With it being closed for renovations for almost ten years, we think that time may be soon!