|The Beijing Underground City 北京地下城 (Běijīng Dìxiàchéng) was built between 1969 and 1979. It runs under much of central Beijing and perhaps to Tianjin more than 69 miles away. It was built as an air-raid shelter in a time of fear. It could hold most of the population of the central Beijing City at that time. In 1979, the entire world had changed and it was clear toward the end of the project that it was not worth maintaining it. It was converted to other purposes and it was decided to open two sections for tourists. It was never advertised widely, even to attract tourists. In spite of that, they have had a half million visitors from 1979 to about 2004.
Today, very few residents of Beijing are aware of the project. In 2004, when I made my first visit, we had to ask repeatedly in the neighborhood to find it. It wasn't until I suggested asking older people that we found it. All of the older residents knew about it. They are the ones who take long walks in the evenings and would have noticed it, but it is also possible that some of them worked on it. It was located on a hutong road quite near a major road, but we had entered the hutong on the other side. A hutong is a traditional form of Chinese neighborhood in which the lanes between houses are very narrow, as narrow as a path in some places, wide enough for a single car in others. We wound our way through narrow alleys to find the entrance to the Underground City in 2004.
In 2008, I made a second visit. The entire hutong was being torn down in a project to create an upscale shopping and tourist attraction in the Qianmen area. In the future the Underground City might be on a major thoroughfare.
The above sign was gone in 2008 and was replaced with the one below. The Underground City was under new management and they had made some changes, but had not yet invested much capital. They were surrounded by a neighborhood in rubble. Whether they will have enough resources to make the necessary changes to preserve this site as a tourist destination will determine its fate. I am sure that they are counting on increased traffic from the mega-shopping street, Qianmen Dajie, less than a mile away.
Last update: August 2009
© Marilyn Shea, 2009