Chongqing (1937-1946)/Improvisation: Bombard and Fire Alley

Chongqing (1937-1946)/Improvisation: Bombard and Fire Alley

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 ordinary citizens to create horror. By August, 1943, the Japanese air force had attacked Chongqing 203 times, dropped 17812 bombs, caused 11148 deaths and 12856 serious injuries, and destroyed 17452 houses. The damage caused by the bomb attack came from the bomb itself as well as the destructive fire that spread out. Fire prevention and blocking had become a serious issue for safeguarding the city.

Fire protection mainly focused on two aspects: preventing the fire from spreading to a large area after bomb attack and providing prompt fire rescue against the inconvenient mountainous topography. Both aspects pointed to reconstruction of roads and alleys that accommodate the situation. Dating back to the Song Dynasty, ancient cities had proved that developing fire alleys is an effective method to prevent fire from spreading. During wartime, as a large number of houses had already been destroyed, the citizens were less likely to hinder the house removal work needed for developing alleys, as they would do before the war because of their own benefit. In addition, the fog which lasts from September to April the next year made it hard for the Japanese to attack from the air, and that provided the opportunity and time for dismantling the ruins of the house and developing fire alleys.

Fig.1 Government Propaganda of Building Fire Alleys

The Construction Division under the Chongqing City Commission of Evacuation and Construction (重庆市疏建委员会下属工程部) led by Wu Huafu(吴华甫), was in charge of developing the fire alleys in Chongqing. In April 15, 1939, construction work started by developing 6m-wide fire alleys in the old city, from Shenxiankou(神仙口) to Sanpaifang(三牌坊), and Chang’an Temple(长安寺) to Miaoxianjie(县庙街). A series of major bomb attack on May 3 and 4, 1939 forced the government to carry out the construction work more rapidly. They planned to build a total number of 80 fire alleys with a total length of 23 kilometers. The old city was divided into 3 demolition areas. Thousands of workers were assigned to each area, and the construction work was planned to finish in 2 months.

Fig.2 Three Demolition Areas of the Old City

On May 24, 1939, the Chongqing City Commission of Evacuation and Construction mandated to expand the construction plan: 1. Add another 1000 workers to the site, work on a 24-hour basis and finish the construction work by the end of June. 2. Change the original plan of building a fire alley every 40 houses (about 140 meters) into building a fire alley every 8 to 15 houses (30-50 meters). Compared to other cities, it was a much denser fire alley plan. Take Chengdu for instance, the interval distance from two adjacent fire alleys was 200 to 300 meters.

In the two months since the major bomb attack on May 3 and 4, 1939, over 9600 houses were dismantled and a total length of 21093 meters of fire alleys was constructed. These fire alleys played a big role in the reconstruction of Chongqing and made a big impact to Chongqing’s cityscape.

  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.
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  1. Long Bin and Zhao Yao, 《陪都十年建设计划草案》的制订及规划评述, 西部人居环境学刊, Issue 5, 2005, pp.100-106.

1 Comment on “Chongqing (1937-1946)/Improvisation: Bombard and Fire Alley

  1. It is interesting to see how the city and the residents response to such an extreme condition as the bombing attack. It would be hard to imagine today as there is a very small chance for war to outbreak again. It is almost an whole city’s first priority and goal to create these fire alleys in hope to minimize the damage to the lowest. These alleys must have became an essential part of the city and i am sure there must still be trace of it. I would be interested to read about how later on , people adapt or change these alleys to fit there life after war and as the city became modernized. Do they demolish most of them or is there an new typology developed based on these alleys?

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