Chongqing (1937-1946)/Improvisation: Bombard, Housing Layout and Open Space

Chongqing (1937-1946)/Improvisation: Bombard, Housing Layout and Open Space

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. The bomb attacks brought huge damage to the houses in Chongqing. By August, 1943, the Japanese air force had attacked Chongqing 203 times and destroyed 17452 houses. There was a strong need for housing renewal and construction during the wartime, and the new house plan should work against wartime situation, to be more specific, the bomb attacks.

The bomb attack, at the same time, offered opportunity for the government to demolish and build houses that laid out in a way that fit their modern city plan better. Most of the houses in the old Chongqing city were joined to each other. Dozens of houses in a row was a common scenario, and there may even be hundreds of them linked back to back.  There was little open space. The houses were mostly simple and crude with bad sanitation. Before the wartime, the government intended to remove some of the houses to improve the situation and expand the roads. However, the plan was held back because of the resistance of the stakeholders. Many of the houses were destroyed by the bomb attack during the wartime, and the dense layout of the houses was not ideal for evacuation and fire prevention against the bomb attack.

Fig.1 House Renewal after bomb attack

Housing renewal during the wartime had to take into consideration of strategies against the bomb attack as well as the future development and planning of the city. These two aspects were not contradictory but relevant to one another, as both required less dense planning and more open space. The houses built should comply with the fire safe distance required by air defense. After studying the bombing equipment and pattern of the Japanese army, the safety distance was calculated as the minimum distance which could make sure that 50kg of bomb was not able to cause damage to more than two houses. Based on this safety distance, a number of houses were removed to leave out open space for evacuation. In addition, the fire alley plan was also changed to clear out more open space. The original plan of building a fire alley every 40 houses (about 140 meters) was changed 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.

Larger open spaces were created at crossroads. After the big bomb attack on May 3 and 4, 1939, there was a large area of bomb ruins at the crossroad of Duyou Street (都邮街), which located in the residential area in the north part of the old Chongqing City. The government thereby took reference of the western plazas and turned that area into a plaza. The plaza both served as a place of gathering, commercial activities as well as politic propaganda.

Fig.2 Monument on Duyou Street

As we see from the examples of housing layout and creation of open space after the bomb attack, the government plans in consideration of air defense and bomb attacks had somewhat shaped the cityscape and laid the foundation of Chongqing’s transformation to a modern city.

  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. Chongqing Editing Committee on Wartime Matters, Chongqing Kang Zhan Da Shi Ji 重庆抗战大事记, (Chongqing: Chongqing Press, 1995).
  4. Zhou Yong, The History of Wartime Chongqing 1931-1945 (Chongqing: Chongqing Press, 2013).
  5. Zhang Gong, The History of Chongqing as Capital City of the National Government of China (Chongqing: The Xinan University Press, 1993).

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