Life Among the Crumbling Decay

I’m not sure what it is about inhabited decaying structures that captures my imagination.  Every time I go searching (which I do frequently) I find more examples of failed infrastructure and condemned building sites where poor and disenfranchised people have taken over and turned unlivable conditions into homes and places of business.  The juxtaposition between the familiar objects of active daily life and the repellent decay of stagnant water and collapsing structures creates a tension in my brain that can only be eased by projecting my own existence into the scene.  I find myself returning again and again to bookmarked photoblogs of urban explorers who enter modern ruins and find signs of life in unlikely places.  I imagine another juxtaposition: the hopelessness that drives people underground to live in unimaginably hazardous conditions versus the will to live that enables humans to endure unthinkable places and even call them home.

This photoblog is one example that I find compelling.  As the story goes, in 1969 Chairman Mao ordered the construction of a network of underground tunnels beneath Beijing that could house the city’s population in the event of a nuclear attack.  Incomplete, abandoned, and nearly inaccessible, the tunnels have decayed in silence beneath the city’s streets for nearly 50 years.  The sequence of photos shared shows a series of claustrophobic rooms and corridors, some filled with garbage, some flooded with filthy water.  Still, some Beijing residents have found their way in and carved out living space in the inhospitable conditions.  The blogger’s captions lack empathy for what the absent residents must endure day to day, but the photos speak for themselves.

Source: Chairman Mao’s Underground City at


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