One day while we were walking around the neighboorhoods in Bejing, a man in camoflague pants said, “Mao’s Underground Tunnel.” We had just gotten rid of a rickshaw driver wnating to give us a ride and a man selling fake Rolex watches, so it took a moment to sink in. The entrance looked like any other building on the street. We paid our admission and our personal guide introduced himself. We descended several flights of stairs to a dirt tunnel. A display containing a soldier’s uniform was dimly lit. Our guide requested we not take photos because this was military property. We proceeded to follow a maze of tunnels. They were about eight feet tall and eight feet wide. There was a lot of moisture. In places there were boards and mats to get over the puddles. A single electrical cord ran the length of the ceiling with a small voltage bulb every 100 feet or so.
Occasionally our guide would point out barricaded doors and say where they led to. One went to the Summer Palace. We were somewhere southeast of Tinaamen Square; that’s a forty minute cab ride. Our guide explained tht Mao ordered the tunnels built during the time of conflict with the U.S.S.R. The tunnels were designed to hold 300,000 people. Our guide said they had never been used and conceded that because of the dampness, many people would have gotten sick and probably died in the tunnels.
At the end of our tour, we entered a large underground command center. Now it is a silk factory. They showed us two types of silk worms and had us test the strength of raw silk. We joined a team of ladies stretching silk on a 4×6 foot frame. And, yes, they had silk products for sale. We bought chop sticks in silk envelopes.
We entered the daylight and looked behind us. No sign of a tunnel. The huotongs or neighborhoods are a maze of streets, alleys and dead ends. These were reportedly designed for urban guerilla warfare.
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