Beijing Underground City

NOTE: Beijing Underground City is currently closed. It is unclear when or if it will reopen.

Back in the day, when it seemed to Mao Zedong that nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union was a threatening Underground Citypossibility, Beijingers took to the ground, digging out this massive network of tunnels and rooms underneath the city. The Underground City lies between 8 and 18 meters below ground and is serviced by an array of secret entrances and ventilation ducts. Only a small section of the city, accessible via a nondescript entrance on a quiet hutong, is open to visitors while other parts of the complex have since been reconstructed as shopping malls and business centers. Exact information about the Underground City is not available, and even the guides that escort you through the tunnels will tell you different figures. Estimates of the number of people who built it range from 40000 to 70000 while the guides will tell you that it could house 300 000 people and that the total length of the tunnels is even longer than the Great Wall, with passages stretching not only to all important parts of Beijing but even to nearby cities like Tianjin.

The tunnels were all dug by hand, the unbelievably small implements that were used are displayed along the tour route. But even in this top-secret construction where facts are blurred and photographs are not allowed to be taken, standard Chinese tourist practices remain. Towards the end of the tour you are taken into a massive room selling all manner of silk apparel. Some might be nonplussed by the comparatively small section of the underground city that is open to tourists. But when wandering through the tunnels just try to grasp the magnitude of the undertaking and let your imagination be aroused by the massive, meandering, secret city that exists beyond the small part you are allowed to see.

Admission: ¥20. Open: 8:30am-5pm

Address: 64 Xidamochang Jie. Subway: Chongwenmen. Tel: +86 (010) 6702 2657.

Directions: From Chongwenmen subway station, walk south along Chonwenmen Dajie and take your second right into Dongdamochang Jie. Then keep walking straight – it’s about 15 mins walk. Alternatively, there will be plenty of rickshaw drivers around, holding signs with a list of attractions including the Underground City. Bargain them down to ¥10 to take you there. Taxi drivers will generally have a hard time finding the place.