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Chairman Mao's Underground City
November 29, 2009 7:33 PM   Subscribe

Chairman Mao's Underground City is a pictorial travelogue of a small part of the tunnels that Chairman Mao had built under Beijing to serve as a nuclear fallout shelter. The intrepid urban explorers come across some surprising things. The complex, which was built by hand, could house three hundred thousand people for up to four months and had amenities such as restaurants, cinemas and roller rinks. Here's a short Travel Channel feature on the Underground City.
posted by Kattullus (38 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love this sentence from the Travel Channel featurette: "Take that, Brezhnev, you're not gonna interrupt roller derby night!"
posted by Kattullus at 7:34 PM on November 29, 2009


I've always wondered how the various urban bomb shelters would have dealt with a real nuclear war. Eight to eighteen metres of dirt over your head doesn't actually seem like a lot when you've multiple nuclear warheads exploding directly over top.

Anyone done any studies or projections?
posted by fatbird at 7:38 PM on November 29, 2009


I was thinking how much I'd like to see it in real life until I got to this sentence: "Soon we were up to our knees in freezing cold, shitty, disease-ridden slop." Now I'm thinking seeing the pictures and reading the copy is enough. Thanks for posting - this is something that's interested me for years (I think I first heard of it in a Cecil Adams and William Poundstone book, but never came accross pictures or more info).
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 7:39 PM on November 29, 2009


[mao inside]
posted by mattdidthat at 7:46 PM on November 29, 2009 [11 favorites]


It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:46 PM on November 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


Awesome!

(Needs the urbanexploration tag.)
posted by ixohoxi at 7:51 PM on November 29, 2009


nice post. thanks!
posted by ms.jones at 7:55 PM on November 29, 2009


I was thinking how much I'd like to see it in real life until I got to this sentence: "Soon we were up to our knees in freezing cold, shitty, disease-ridden slop." Now I'm thinking seeing the pictures and reading the copy is enough.

As much as I love this stuff, a buddy of mine had to have a sizeable chunk of his leg amputated due to the MRSA he got because he scraped his leg in an ordinary mud puddle on the surface of Beijing. I'd hate to think what lurks down there.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:41 PM on November 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


fatbird, most of the fallout shelters were just that -- temporary protection from fallout, not from blast effects. Also, a lot of them were designed and built in the kiloton A-bomb era, not the megaton H-bomb era. (Cheyenne Mountain is probably the safest target zone ever built, and it is hundreds of feet below ground and the working areas are on shock absorbers.) Draw your own conclusions.

Two of London's Second World War tragedies took place in Underground stations.
posted by dhartung at 8:46 PM on November 29, 2009


Aftermath!
RPG geek!
posted by stbalbach at 8:52 PM on November 29, 2009


At Peking University, the foreign student dorms had a bomb shelter. Giant blast doors and everything. In the 1990s, there were also internet cafes in the bomb shelter tunnels next to campus. Fun times. Nice and warm in the winter.
posted by wuwei at 8:54 PM on November 29, 2009


Interesting post. Thanks, Kattullus.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:57 PM on November 29, 2009


Nuclear weapons don't make big craters - they are air burst for max effect. There may be no crater at all. And it doesn't take much dirt to protect from the heat and radiation. The hard part is the blast, the air is displaced, it sort of, well, crushes you. So you need blast doors to absorb the shock. And the "aftermath" part, radiation fallout, air filters.
posted by stbalbach at 9:00 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


The guy should've stopped to take good, high-resolution pictures of that blueprint. That's a serious piece of Cold War history and there probably won't be any chance to get it out of state archives.
posted by crapmatic at 9:01 PM on November 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Underground City used to be a proper tourist attraction as evidenced by the Travel Channel Documentary. I was in Beijing last month and was so excited to go explore the underground city but there was very bad news....
posted by meech at 9:02 PM on November 29, 2009


mad raves held by daring Chinese punks wearing miners’ headlamps.

Count me in!
posted by dunkadunc at 9:06 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Count me in!

See you in the amputation surgery ward, then.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:17 PM on November 29, 2009


That looks interesting. There's a bit if a disparity in the way The Travel Channel and Vice Magazine present the tunnel. On one hand, it's a guided tourist attraction, and on the other hand, it seems to be a derelict, verboten place of great danger, accessible only to adventurous souls with the right hookups.

I'm going with tourist attraction.
posted by flippant at 9:55 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nuclear weapons don't make big craters - they are air burst for max effect. There may be no crater at all. And it doesn't take much dirt to protect from the heat and radiation. The hard part is the blast, the air is displaced, it sort of, well, crushes you. So you need blast doors to absorb the shock. And the "aftermath" part, radiation fallout, air filters.


Also you might want some way to deal with the fact that the giant fireball that has just been created is going to suck up all the oxygen for several miles. You don't just need to be underground, you need to be firmly sealed underground with at least a few hour oxygen supply.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:27 PM on November 29, 2009


I will hide and you will hide
And we shall hide together here
Underneath the bunkers in the row

I have water, I have rum
Wait for dawn and dawn shall come
Underneath the bunkers in the row

posted by Meatbomb at 1:27 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


On one hand, it's a guided tourist attraction, and on the other hand, it seems to be a derelict, verboten place of great danger, accessible only to adventurous souls with the right hookups.

Well I think that's the thing - the tourist attraction is sadly gone.
posted by meech at 2:28 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


See you in the amputation surgery ward, then.

Take a left at the Vagina Mirror Check Room, past the From Congeals The Knife Treatment Room, third door on the left, just across from the Short-Wave Treatment Room.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:30 AM on November 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Let this be a lesson to you: always wear your hip-waders when exploring underground tunnels filled with disease-ridden groundwater.
posted by bwg at 5:04 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pollo's link is like the directory of Chinese Hell.
posted by fleacircus at 6:14 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Top post! We tried to get in and see these as students in the 90s but couldn't get past the door. Now they're open I've never bothered.
Always thought their existence sat uneasily with the notion that the Maoist regime was cavalier with the lives of the civilian population - in the UK the bunker network was exclusively for the government and military and the rest of us got the notorious Protect and Survive guide to building our own out of old doors and tea bags.
That's a serious piece of Cold War history and there probably won't be any chance to get it out of state archives.
A lot of those archives are actually opening up to scholarship now - e.g. those on the website of this research centre.
posted by Abiezer at 6:21 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nuclear weapons don't make big craters - they are air burst for max effect.

I don't know what the tipping point in my head is, but the notion of malicious, counter-intuitive bombing tactics like air bursting really scrapes the bottom of the barrel of humanity. Maybe it's that smart, educated, industrious bastards went to great lengths to figure out how to harm the most people possible. It makes my stomach churn.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:51 AM on November 30, 2009


MetaFilter: up to our knees in freezing cold, shitty, disease-ridden slop.
posted by nestor_makhno at 8:25 AM on November 30, 2009


I don't know what the tipping point in my head is, but the notion of malicious, counter-intuitive bombing tactics like air bursting really scrapes the bottom of the barrel of humanity.

How is an air burst counter intuitive? What do you think they should have done with the nukes? Just hit people over the head with it?
posted by delmoi at 8:42 AM on November 30, 2009


How is an air burst counter intuitive?

Well, normally bombs hit the ground.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:20 AM on November 30, 2009


I don't know what the tipping point in my head is, but the notion of malicious, counter-intuitive bombing tactics like air bursting really scrapes the bottom of the barrel of humanity.

How is an air burst counter intuitive? What do you think they should have done with the nukes? Just hit people over the head with it?


Also, it's a nuke, how exactly is there a pleasant, kind, humane way to use one? Oh, let's just blow one up in the desert and hope we don't hurt too many jack rabbits. The whole point of a nuke is that it is so horrifyingly evil that you never ever want one used on you. At least with an air burst, the survivors have something to rebuild from and far less lingering fallout to deal with for the next few millennia.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:21 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, normally bombs hit the ground.

It had been known for a long time that you actually wanted your bombs to burst in the air (there might even be a song or two incorporating such words), as this caused more harm to the targets than a ground burst.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:45 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Kind of depends on the bomb, ROU_xenophobe. But you're right - for the BEST results (or worst, depending on your POV) for blast damage, you're going to want an air burst, with the altitude dependent on the tonnage. If you're looking for fallout, you want either a low air or ground burst so the fireball sucks up as much crap from the ground as possible.

Either way, they're nothing you want to be anywhere near - like on the same continent.

Oddly, I've often thought that Chernobyl was a good example of what would happen if someone popped off a nuke - and it frightened enough folks in the upper echelons of the USSR (What with city evac, poor FEMA response, high costs and such) that the idea they could survive (much less win) a nuclear war was pretty well shown to be a fool's dream.
posted by JB71 at 10:02 AM on November 30, 2009


Chinese have a lot of hells.
posted by Babblesort at 10:14 AM on November 30, 2009


Chinese have a lot of hells.

Previously
posted by Pollomacho at 11:02 AM on November 30, 2009


Viral advertising for the new Fallout game has begun.

If only!
posted by ersatz at 1:00 PM on November 30, 2009


The best way to survive a nuclear blast is to be somewhere else. Temperatures within the fireball are high enough to vaporize just about anything, and the combination of blast, radiation, and heat near a nuclear blast is very lethal.

I tend to think that basements might be decent shelters if you're away from a ground zero, but most ground zeros are going to look like the eponymous one. And of course, that epigram of the Cold War might also hold that the survivors would envy the dead.

As Pollomacho says, the central idea of nuclear weapons -- at least as they have been deployed by extant powers -- has been as deterrent. To actually use them, as at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is horrific. To contemplate nuclear war being survivable is a grim joke straight out of Kubrick. "Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks. "
posted by dhartung at 2:15 PM on November 30, 2009


@Abiezer - There's apparently at least one entrance just around the corner from you, or at any rate there was one in one of the alleys off of Nan Luogu Xiang as of last summer. The guy from Plastered took Eric down there -- think the entrance was in either Hei Zhima Hutong or the one immediately south of there. Might still be open; apparently the old guy guarding the entrance was encouraging Eric to open a bar down there.
posted by bokane at 3:05 AM on December 1, 2009


Well, normally bombs hit the ground.

It had been known for a long time that you actually wanted your bombs to burst in the air (there might even be a song or two incorporating such words)


...gave prooooof to the night,
that your ass was half there*

*(repeat melody of line directly above, x times for the following lines)

and your leg over there...
and your hand there somewhere...
plus some flames in your hair...
cause the bomb burst in air...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:12 AM on December 1, 2009


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