Beijing’s Secret Underground City

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Image: Alex Lee

Tunnels stretch for miles on end – stark lighting just about illuminating the gloom – while mementos of a time when the threat of nuclear war loomed large can still be seen, albeit covered in mold. Incredible to think that these labyrinthine passageways were designed for the safekeeping of an entire city; indeed they comprise a city in themselves.


Image: V Manninen

The Cold War triggered a profusion of bomb shelters that were once so ubiquitous some science-fiction stories foresaw humanity’s future lying underground. Movies like George Lucas’s THX 1138 predicted entire subterranean civilizations that had left the surface world behind. But could this really have come to pass?

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Image: Alex Lee

In 1969, as tensions between China and the Soviet Union were reaching boiling point due to the border clashes centered around the Zhenbao Island incident, Communist China envisioned just such a subterranean future. What’s more, the ruling government acted upon it. Today, the remains of the herculean task they began – burrowing out all manner of bunkers and basements below the surface – still exist underneath the bustling streets of Beijing.

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