By Ye Ming
Photographs by Antonio Faccilongo
PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 16, 2017
Beneath the streets of Beijing, people live in an underground universe constructed during the Cold War era
Left: Atomic shelters are located underneath these buidlings in the district of Weigongcun in Beijing, China. Right: Xian, 23, sits on her bed in her room in the Nong Ying atomic shelter in the district of Weigongcun. Many young people leave their lives in the countryside and move to Beijing to pursue a better life.
In the late ’60s and ‘70s, anticipating the devastation of a Cold War-nuclear fallout, Chairman Mao directed Chinese cities to construct apartments with bomb shelters capable of withstanding the blast of a nuclear bomb. In Beijing alone, roughly 10,000 bunkers were promptly constructed.
But when China opened its door to the broader world in the early ’80s, Beijing’s defense department seized the opportunity to lease the shelters to private landlords, eager to profit from converting the erstwhile fallout hideaways into tiny residential units.
Now when night falls, more than a million people—mostly migrant workers and students from rural areas—vanish from Beijing’s bustling streets into the underground universe, little known to the world above.