Chongqing (1937-1946)/Improvisation: Bombard, Air Defense and Bomb Shelter

Chongqing (1937-1946)/Improvisation: Bombard, Air Defense and Bomb Shelter

“Chongqing is a city constructed on rocks. We have used gunpowder to pound the rocks for several months to dig tunnels underneath. As long as we have these underground bomb shelters, people no longer need to flee from the bomb attack. ”; “We are trying to make a basement for every citizen.” These are quotes from Wu Guozhen, the former mayor of Chongqing, in his interview during wartime.

Chongqing government had the intention of digging underground tunnels in 1936, with the purpose of developing underground traffic. Due to the expanding population and inconveniency brought about by the mountainous topography, the original traffic system was overloaded. The Chongqing government decided to build two tunnels with the funding support from some local wealthy people. The construction started at Linjiangmen(临江门), Fuzichi(夫子池), Shihuishi(石灰市), Bao’an Road(保安路), and Daliangzi(大梁子). The construction of the traffic tunnels laid the foundation for the later construction of the underground bomb shelter.

The trigger of the mass construction of underground shelter was the bomb attack by the Japanese army. After the Japanese Army controlled Wuhan in 1938, they started to bomb Chongqing on a daily basis. They targeted not only the military strategic center, but also the citizens to create horror. The Chongqing government had foreseen the air attack in 1936 and Chongqing City Protection Corps (重庆市防护团) was founded in October that year, led by the mayor and the chief of police. In September, 1937, the president of the Repulic of China, Chiang Kai-shek issued the telegram message to instruct and help the citizens in Chongqing to construct simple bomb shelters. He also asked for models of both above ground and underground bomb shelters and the people in offices, schools, factories, banks and other public departments to build bomb shelters based on the models.

In respond to the Japanese Army’s frequent bomb attack in the old Chongqing City, the Chongqing Air Defense Committee decided that a larger-scale underground tunnel is needed other than the smaller scale shelters. The construction of the large scale underground tunnel in the old city started in December, 1937. The Great Tunnel Construction Division (大隧道工程处) was set up in August, 1938. The tunnel went from Chaotianmen(朝天门) to Tongyuanmen(通远门), linjiangmen(临江门) to Nanjimen(南纪门), passing through the four directions in the old city, with 13 entrances and exits. The construction process was retarded, however, due to the lack of funding. Because constructing tunnels was too slow, the plan was changed into digging separate bomb shelter. After a series of large bomb attacks in May, 1939, the funding and the area of construction was expanded. A total number of 951 caves and tunnels were built in 1939, which was 5.72 times of that in 1938, holding 255,000 people.

Fig.1 people hiding in the underground tunnel during bomb attack

Fig.2 bomb shelter construction stats by 1940

A major accident happened in 1941. A series of continuous bomb attack caused the death of thousands of people in the tunnel. After that, another round of large-scale construction of air defence shelters started. By November, 1943, a total number of 1823 bomb shelters, with a total length of 84,000 meters had been built. They could hold up to 445,000 people.

Many of the tunnels have been kept until today and turned into commercial use.

  1. Xie Xuan, Study on the Urban Construction and Planning of Chongqing (1947-1949), PhD diss, South China University of Technology, Guangzhou, 2011, China Academic Journal Electronic Publishing House.
  2. Tang Shourong, Air Defense in Chongqing during Anti-Japanese War, (Chongqing: Chongqing Press,1995)
  3. 重庆市人民防空办公室编. 重庆市防空志. 重庆:西南大学出版社, 1994.
  4. Chongqing Editing Committee on Wartime Matters, Chongqing Kang Zhan Da Shi Ji 重庆抗战大事记, (Chongqing: Chongqing Press, 1995).
  5. Wang Zijun, Chong Qing Fang Kong Dong Can An Shi Mo 重庆防空洞惨案始末, Tong Zhou Gong Jin 同舟共进, Issue 11, 2017, pp. 54-56.

3 Comments on “Chongqing (1937-1946)/Improvisation: Bombard, Air Defense and Bomb Shelter

  1. After reading another post about the fire alleys in Chongqing, I am curious and would like to visit the city. I know that Chongqing has a very unique geographical setting. The living space is the city should be adapting to the landscape. However, because of the war, the residents had to reshape the landscape by means of underground shelter and even with the vision of having an underground traffic tunnels. Such vision although is a tragic product from the war but it is certainly thinking way ahead of the western world which the imagination of underground sections for living space and traffic as a vision. However. from the photo I can see that the tunnel is quite narrow and had to accommodate a huge amount of people, I guessed the technology at that time was not sufficient to dig large underground space as bomb shelter,let alone traffic tunnel.

  2. Glad to know that the government could utilize the underground as an immediate response to protect its citizens. I am curious to know how the tunnels function now. Are they altered in any way to suit commercial use? Is it convenient for people to access the underground tunnels to buy things when given shopping malls and markets above ground? How does ventilation work? Even though its original use is gone, the underground shelter is still a representation of Chongqing’s history, a symbol of resilience that has survived the onslaught of war and deserve to be kept.

  3. Interesting! Chongqing is a 3D city with transport system giving it breadth while these bomb shelters giving it depth. I started to dream a trip there to the bomb shelters after watching the movie Hot-pot Heroes, which tells a story happened in a hot-pot restaurant locating in a renovated bomb shelter. Actually, most of the bomb shelters in Chongqing nowadays have been blended in the city without too many gaps, and many of them are already indispensable parts of Chongqing in terms of local life and the accessibility for the poor. The preservation of these boom shelters, along with the re-use and renovation of them, gives Chongqing a unique label in the world.

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