China has bunkers where 1 million people live

It’s no secret that China is second the most populous country in the world, with a demographic population of more than 1.4 billion. Beijing, its capital, is home to a large number of Chinese, totaling 21.54 million, as of 2018. Now imagine the difficulty of making housing available to all these people.

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According to Wired, Beijing is totally crowded with people so it is not surprising that there is a great demand for housing and, due to this great need, the value of real estate in the city is becoming higher and higher. To circumvent this situation, around a million people decided to move to the city’s underground, where there are thousands of bunkers dating back to the Cold War era.

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Bomb-proof rooms.

Towards the end of the 1960s, Mao Zedong instructed that residential buildings in Beijing should have underground shelters in case a nuclear war broke out and the population had to be protected from radiation. Fortunately, that conflict that many believed was imminent never happened, so in the 1980s, the bunkers began to be sold.

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In total, some 10,000 nuclear shelters were built at a depth of approximately 15 meters and were gradually converted into low-cost commercial and residential spaces. Today, it is estimated that approximately one million people – mostly students, low-income families and people from rural areas trying to live in the capital – live in this underground “world”, where rents range from $40 to $100 per month.

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It seems very cheap, but for this modest amount the inhabitants live squeezed into small spaces of 3.7 by 4.5 meters without windows and, in some cases, up to 12 people sharing the same apartment. There are communal kitchens, laundries and bathrooms, as well as places where residents can shop, get haircuts and socialize, but life in this underground city is far from easy.

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Images of underground Beijing.

Italian photographer Antonio Facciolongo managed to visit around 30 bunkers in 2015 – the photographs that accompany this publication belong to him – and managed to dodge the guards patrolling the place with the aim of recording life in Beijing’s underground. Facciolongo said that with the smell, the humid atmosphere and the darkness it is impossible to forget that you are in the depths of the Earth.

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In 2010, Chinese authorities declared underground residential spaces illegal and there are plans to evacuate the bunkers this year. The problem is that most of the people who occupy these sites are not able to pay the high rents of the surface, so the future of these inhabitants is not clear.



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