china edition


Underground City

A sign near the entrance proclaims the seldom-visited attraction Di Xia Cheng a "human fairyland and underground paradise"; it's definitely not as nice as it sounds.

Underground CityAside from odd recent additions, such as a silk factory, these tunnels are dark, damp, and genuinely creepy. A portrait of Mao stands amid murals of ordinary folk "volunteering" to dig tunnels, and fading but catchy slogans ("Dig the tunnels deep, accumulate grain, oppose hegemony" and "For the people: prepare for war, prepare for famine").

Built during the 1960s, with border skirmishes with the USSR as the pretext, the tunnels could accommodate all of Beijing's 6 million inhabitants upon its completion; or so it was told. Army engineers were said to have built a secret network of tunnels connecting the residences of Party leaders at Zhongnanhai to the Great Hall of the People and the numerous military bases near Badachu to the west of town. Suspicions were confirmed in 1976 and 1989 when large numbers of troops emerged from the Great Hall of the People to keep the people in check.

The recent construction boom means that this is the only remaining entrance to the non-secret tunnels, and it may disappear soon. Take a flashlight to explore unlit nooks and side tunnels, but watch out for broken glass, slippery floors, and rusty wires.