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Underground Great Wall amazing in foreigners' eyes
By Liu Weifeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-04-07 06:35

An underground tourist attraction for foreigners is little known among Beijing locals.

Known as Beijing Underground City, and nicknamed the underground Great Wall, the attraction is a series of tunnels that were built as air-raid shelters in the late 1960s.

Located in a small lane, or hutong, in Chongwen District, the place is seldom heard about by local tourists. Even among Beijingers, few people know the place exists.

However, it is a popular tourist destination for overseas travellers.

"It's fantastic," said Lam Saupen, a tourist from Malaysia on an eight-day package tour.

Lam said he had travelled to many parts of the world, but had never before seen such an amazing underground scenic spot.

The underground city has an arsenal, a "battlefield hospital," and a recreation centre for pensioners.

Stepping inside and downward through the 1.5-metre-wide door, which looks nothing special, one enters a series of tunnels stretching for 30 kilometres.

Decorated with camouflage cloth on both sides of the tunnel, with framed portraits of previous Chinese leaders, including Sun Yat-sen and Mao Zedong, the tunnel is said to have underground links to the Forbidden City, Tian'anmen Square and Beijing Railway Station.

"For safety considerations, there are no outlets over there," said Gao Guilan, manager of the underground city.

Gao receives some 200 tourists every day, and most of them are overseas tourists in groups.

But for local tourists, things are different.

"I've never heard about the place," said Ge Zongyu, a local resident who has lived in the Qianmen area for over 40 years.

Dai Bing, another Beijinger, was excited at seeing the site.

He visited yesterday after a recommendation from one of his foreign friends.

But he is puzzled about why not many local people know about the place, while it is always on the tourist list of foreigners.

The underground city only receives packaged visitors, no individuals are allowed in, according to the authorities.

"The group visitor policy is made for the sake of the tourists' safety, to avoid getting lost in the multi-branched tunnels," Gao said.

This air-raid shelter was constructed over 10 years between 1969 and 1979, and it was designed to hold over 300,000 people in case of an air raid.

There are more than 2,300 ventilation shafts to supply the underground tunnels with fresh air.

There are also more than 70 places inside the tunnels to store water.

Gao said if possible, some entertainment facilities will be introduced to make visits more enjoyable.

"No matter what kind of entertainment is adopted, there should be a clear focus on the specific culture of the place," she added.

That means more Beijingers will learn about the city's past.

(China Daily 04/07/2005 page3)

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