Beijing Underground City - Dixia Cheng
The underground city of Beijing – Dixia Cheng - used to be a unique and seldom seen tourist attraction in Beijing but with the Beijing Olympics the last of the public entrances to the underground city of Beijing was closed. After the Olympics Beijing's underground city was not reopened. However due to the large amount of entrances you may still find a local or private tour guide who is willing and able to sneak you in to see this little seen and rapidly disappearing Beijing attraction.
The Beijing underground city was originally built on the orders of Chairman Mao in 1969 and intended as a bomb shelter in the event of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. The Beijing underground city took 10 years and between 70,000 and 40,000 "volunteers", soldiers and school kids to complete. Parts of the Beijing tunnel were dug out by hand, with baskets and bamboo sticks it took about three years to complete each section of the immense project.
The Beijing underground tunnels go on for 30 kilometers, reaching the areas of Xidan, Xuanwumen, Quianmen and Chongwen. At the Beijing underground tunnel's lowest point it is 18 meters below ground level. At the time it was estimated that 40% of Beijing's six million strong population would be able to fit into the bomb shelter in the event of an attack. The Beijing underground city was intended to be just that, a city, and provision was made for all the amenities that a city provides like theatres, hairdressers, basketball courts, hospitals, factories, clinics and schools.
The Beijing underground city, although never used for it's intended purpose was maintained by the authorities for many years but with the rapid expansion of the city and rebuilding above ground, the underground city of Beijing is gradually being destroyed. In the past some parts of the tunnels have also been used as hostels, stores, factories, storage areas and business centers while more and more of the Beijing tunnels were gradually shut off and closed down.
On a visit to the Beijing underground city you can see large posters of Chairman Mao and Communist slogans on the walls like – For the People Prepare for War Prepare for Famine. The tunnels are damp, dark and spooky, you can almost feel the ghosts of those citizens who dug the tunnels out by hand, this included groups of school children. There are signs along the way pointing to various locations above ground. If lucky enough to enter the tunnels you could see thick concrete doors, ventilation systems, bunkers and air filter systems.
Picture of Xidamochang entrance to Dixia Chang by Samual Tan on Wikipedia
There was once thought to have been about 90 entrances to the tunnels throughout Beijing and even rumors of trap door entrances from each home. Each entrance was hidden in shop entrances or down small alley ways. The tunnels are thought to have connected the homes of political party leaders with the great Hall of the People. Because of the large number of entrances and their inconspicuous locations there may still be one or two entrances that locals could direct you to.
In the past you could visit the Dixia Cheng in the Chongwen District at 62 Damochang Street, Qiamen or entering through the Qianmen Carpet Factory at 44 Xingfu Dajie or 18 Dazhalan Jie Street in Qiamen. If you want to find a way into the underground city your best bet is to start close to one of these locations and ask locals if they know of an entrance that remains open. Ask your travel guide or hotel about visiting Beijing's underground city, it may be reopened in the future, if you do have an opportunity to visit the underground city in Beijing then you will be seeing a part of history which will soon disappear completely due to the cities rapid expansion replacing the old with the new.