Life of People Living in China’s “Underground Nuclear Bunkers”

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China constructed over 10,000 bunkers in late 60s and 70s, following the instructions of Chairman Mao, in order to protect the people of the city from a Nuclear Blast. That was the time where there was an anticipation of the devastation of Cold War Nuclear fallout.

These Nuclear Bunkers were constructed underground in Beijing as a shelter for the people in case of Nuclear Blast or war, but when the China opened its door to the world in early 80s, Beijing’s defense department leased those Nuclear Bunkers to the private landlords to earn profit by converting those bunkers into the residential units.

And now, there are over 1 million people living in these underground bunkers, mostly of which are migrants’ workers, students, professionals and other people from the rural areas who cannot afford a proper apartment in the city.

These bunkers are rented as low as $20 per month and people living in them cannot afford a villa or an apartment in Beijing. An Italian photographer Antonio visited and made a documentary on the people living in these Nuclear Bunkers stated.

“I met around 150 people, and only 50 gave me permission to photograph them, the rest of them were afraid because they told their families that they have good jobs and they are living in good apartments”

The living conditions inside bunkers are very hard, even though they were made with the electricity, plumbing and sewage system for the purpose of providing shelter for months to the people in case of Nuclear War, but the lack of sunlight and proper ventilation makes these bunkers very suffocating and the air is stagnant. Resident living in these units have to share kitchen and the restroom that are often cramped and unhygienic.

The local laws require a minimal space of 4 square meters (43 square foot) per tenant. Which in these bunkers are totally ignored. Antonio photographed a family of 4 people living in a room so tiny that only a bed can fit in there. “This is one of the poorest places I went to,” Antonio stated.

In 2010, having these issues resolves, the local government after watching the neglect of safety and basic needs from the landlords decided to close these Nuclear Bunkers and prohibited them to be used as residential purposes. But that step is fruitful so far because the people have nowhere else to go and they cannot afford the apartments or villa in the city.

Beijing being the world’s 3rd most expensive city to live in has the most expensive housing prices. These prices went up in the past few decades. And now one square meter (11 square foot) of residential real estate costs around $6000.

Millions of people have migrated from rural areas to the capital in search of better living but HOKOU an outdated household registration system in China ties the citizen’s welfare benefit to their places of origins only.

People who cant afford apartments or villas in a high-priced lifestyle city like Beijing, choose to move into these Nuclear Bunkers which can be rented for as low as $40 per month for a single unit. There are larger, dormitory-style rooms that can accommodate around 10 people in one unit can be rented out as low as $20.

Many of the residents in these bunkers have strong hopes that its just a phase in their lives and eventually they will be able to afford a decent apartment in the city and will move out and find a better place with comfortable rooms with fresh air, windows and sunlight.


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