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A Million People Live in These Underground Nuclear Bunkers

Beneath the streets of Beijing, people live in an underground universe constructed during the Cold War era.

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.

Fascinated by the phenomenon, Italian photographer Antonio Faccilongo arrived in Beijing to document it in December 2015. Although the bunkers are not hard to find—they are located in virtually all parts of the city—getting access proved to be difficult.

It seemed everywhere Faccilongo went, a neighborhood security guard would turn him away, citing a law barring foreigners from entering such nuclear refuges. Dismayed, he submitted an official request with the local government, which was rejected. Finally, Faccilongo slipped by when guards were off-site for lunch.

But even after Faccilongo attained access, he found many residents wary, in some cases embarrassed, of being photographed.

“I met around 150 people, and only 50 gave me permissions [to photograph them],” Faccilongo says. “Some of them are afraid because they told their families [back home] that they have good jobs and are living in good apartments.”

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