“It’s ironic that sometimes the very security features designed to keep people out, are the features I use to get in.”
In Beijing security is often just an illusion. The city may have the world’s most CCTV cameras, but is anybody watching them? Huge rusted locks snap open with enough pull, and the bars on the windows are great ladders up onto the roofs of buildings, which is exactly how Burbex got into Beijing’s legendary film sudios.
Fans may recall that in March Burbex posted pictures of Beijing’s historic film studios. You can check those at this link The Back Lot at Beijing Film Academy. Burbex was very pleased to receive a lot of emails about that post asking how to get in, but a little bit sad that mostly people got caught and kicked out by the lazy janitors. Burbex decided to pay another visit to the site, and even better managed to get into the main studios.
Beijing Film Corporation has been running since after the revolution in 1949, and has been renowned for pumping out streams of Communist propaganda movies, as well as the more recent <Kung Fu Kid> (also known as <The Karate Kid> in the USA) starring Jackie Chan and Will Smith’s son, Jaden.
The main gate is huge and green, with the blazing red logo painted on the front. That didn’t put off Burbex as he climbed the window bars to the flatroof avoiding the glances of the gang of stray dogs that live in the area.
Jumping down from the flatroof and into the main courtyard of the studios, you notice that there is one huge studio on the right and a labyrinth of three studios on the left. Below you can see the gates to the huge right-hand studio.
Inside the studio it is black as pitch, but Burbex brought along his new LED flash and lit up the whole space. In each corner, steps zig-zag up to the heavens, and even onto the roof of the studio. That was a bit too high even for Burbex.
Burbex decided to leave that for another day, and went back to the central courtyard to explore the smaller studios, which lay through another massive green gate.
Ad then on the inside, an internal gate with a massive warning not to smoke inside the studios.
Climbing the zigzag stairs in this studio, Burbex was glad that he had brought his mask, as the walls of the studio were lined with crumbling asbestos to fireproof the room. Once in the heavens though, there was a treat to be found.
Rows and rows of walkways hang high above the ground. The wooden boards are rotting and creaking, and the asbestos ceiling is falling in. With hands gripped tightly in the half darkness, Burbex made a run to the other side. Securely on the other side, peering down into the darkness you start to realise the scale of the studio.
These smaller studios are all connected, and the walkways lead from studio two right through to studio five at the end of the building. Between the studios are huge blast doors and rotting pipes.
Coming out of Studio Five, you enter into the the makeup department of the studios, which is definitely the most fun to be had here.
Each room has all kinds of weird objects and equipment left over from the movie business. Especially in the special effects and prosthetic department. There are Plaster of Paris heads everywhere.
Plus there is a very professional makeup department…
Could you really ask for more? Oh yeah! Uncle Fester’s head!
After all that excitement in that steaming hot studio, it was time for Burbex to leave the way he came into through the lucky green doors. He of course left it unbolted so that next time he doesn’t have to climb onto the roof again.
By the way, if you liked this, then be sure to check out the previous post about The Back Lot at Beijing Film Academy which is just next door, and also check out the whole set here on Flickr. Of course, if you want to come along to any other kitschy leisure sites like Floating Dragon Amusement Park or The Great Mall of China, be sure to send Burbex an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is that building abandoned?
How am I going to get in?
Under the gate? Over the fence?
Any doors or windows left open?
Many people have been asking Burbex recently how he finds his locations. Burbex is always cycling round the city keeping an eye out for new places to explore. Some of Burbex’s best sites have been discovered just by looking at a building and asking the question, “What’s on the other side of that wall?”
Usually the best locations are hidden in plain sight, like this fantastic location in Beijing’s trendiest neighbourhood – Sanlitun – right next door to a Lamborghini dealership.
The abandoned Babel Showroom was used to sell luxury apartments in The Babel Towers complex across the road. You can see the showroom in the bottom right hand corner of the artist’s impression above.
This showroom was made to impress. The central rotunda is made entirely from glass bricks, and has an elaborate chandelier which hangs over a model of the site.
The attention to detail is amazing. There are light fittings with no light and fireplaces with no fire everywhere.
Burbex though this lightshade looked a lot like The Starship Enterprise, but that might be overthinking it a bit.
Burbex thought these lightbulbs shaped liked Goldfish were an espcially nice touch. Sadly he broke his souvenir leaving the building.
Of course, everything here has been left to rot, and deceased plants lay like murder victims on the floor.
This palm looks like it was trying to make its escape, turned over the pot and died of thirst on the marble floor.
In among the pillars. Burbex found the golden logo of the complex. Not real gold of course, not even copper, just plastic like everything else.
The showroom apartments upstairs have been commandeered by a roving band of migrant workers whose underwear Burbex found hanging beneath the spiral staircase.
Burbex found a bar area featuring the same circular design as the rotunda.
Further inside a meeting room with a jet black fireplace and huge meeting table can be found.
The best part of the showroom is the bamboo gardens outside. Most of the doors have been left unlocked, so stepping out into the green light is easy.
Strange sculptures dominate a garden which cannot decide whether it is modern, classical, or Zen. Is this sculpture supposed to look like a cow pat?
The rotunda building can be climbed upon for great views of Sanlitun.
And a zen garden for those visitors who need a little quiet contemplation after the hustle and bustle of Beijing.
No urbex site in Beijing would be complete without its band of 老土包 or “country bumpkins” washing their undies and drying out roots and vegetables in the sun. Babel did not disappoint.
The bumpkins may have started a new religion, offering up a sacrifice of broccoli to the dark Babel obelisk.
The huge bronze-coloured gate, which the janitors use to get in and out, prevents the public getting a glimpse of the site, but Burbex always prefers the back way out.
In closing, Burbex was trying to recall his Bible classes at church. The Tower of Babel? Didn’t that fall down? Perhaps not the best name for a complex of luxury towers. Still, if they fall down more places for Burbex to explore.
By the the way, if you liked this site, or any of the other great leisure sites like The House That Never Dies or The Swiss Cheesy Village, be sure to drop Burbex a line at email@example.com and arrange a time to meet.
When it comes to urbexing in Beijing, or indeed anywhere in the world, there are certain features that urbexers search for. Some people go for the tunnels, some people go for the high places, others like a place with a good story. When you can find a site which combines all of these features and more, that’s when you know you have found a classic site.
Longyun International Park has all of these features and more. Burbex stumbled across this site by chance. Passing in a taxi from the airport, the top of a dome poked its way into the smoggy sky begging to be explored.
Scouting the outside perimeter there are Communist slogans encouraging citizens to be “civilised” and make Beijing a “centre of development”. Burbex took a knife to one of the slogans and cut his way through to the other side.
Plunging into the darkness beyond, underground canals snake their way hundreds of metres forward. Faint glints of light barely seen in the pitch black.
The frozen canals meander from left to right, and along the way there are plenty of unusual water features to be taken in. Small flags warn of the water’s edge like flashes of colour at the village fete.
Getting lost is inevitable in this underground labyrinth. Tunnels weave off in all directions, and circle around and around in circles. Only the lucky will find the Tiffany roofed exits.
These are the most heavily guarded areas though, and the security guards shout down curses at intruders but do not dare penetrate the labyrinth.
The inner dome is a smaller version of the first, and does not have the balconies or the grandeur of its big brother. It feels no less dangerous though.
The mouth of the canal leads out into a half-completed Suzhou style water garden. Missing the colour of flowers and trees, it is just a cement garden. From here though, the villas and the upper areas can be accessed.
Entering through the glassless windows, the villas are easily accessed. Running up the stairs and through unlocked doors, the rooftop dome yawns at the sky.
The beginning of this post mentioned a good story behind this location. According to local taxi drivers, it was shut down because of the death of several workers on the site. Due to this the Fengshui is now considered too bad to continue. This is a curse for construction companies who cannot battle against the entrenched superstition in China.
This is very similar to Chaoyang 81, which has remained empty for decades simply because of its ghostly reputation. Probably this site will be left to rot until it becomes too dangerous or too much of an eyesore for the local government to stand.
In retrospect this is the only site that has ever given Burbex nightmares, so maybe its ghostly reputation is true. Whatever the case, with or without ghosts, this is a first class site for urban exploration and earns a solid A-.
Don’t forget that no matter what your taste, from industrial sites like Jiaohua Chemical Works, to tall places like Guosen Towers, or ghostly locations like The Nationalist Hotel, or Chaoyang 81, Burbex is only an email away ready to help you on your way.
Sometimes you get the feeling that the only urbex sites in Beijing are huge industrial sites like Jiaohua and Capital Steel, or projects that have been abandoned halfway and left to rot like Guoson Mall and Sunshine Park. Sometimes what the Beijing urbexer needs is a little bit of nostalgia to add to the diet of rebar and concrete. That’s where Beijing Film Academy steps in.
In Beijing one of the characters that the urbexer is always looking for is 拆 which means to cut down or demolish. This character is often painted on buildings slated for demolition. The buildings may remain for years without anything happening. You can see the character painted on both sides of the back lot gate in the picture below.
Once over the wall and safely in the lot, there is the feeling of a one-horse cowboy movie, you’re always expecting a Chinese John Wayne to stride through the Chinese-style gate and challenge some dupe to a shootout at midday.
The only heroes here are the dogs who will follow you everywhere around the site. They are a strange breed of mutt specially designed to make as much noise as possible, while at the same time attracting nobody’s attention.
Hidden in the back lots are props of warriors and buddhas left over from older productions. There is a strong sense of China’s histories overlapping and blending on the lots which is probably not that far from reality.
Some areas of the lot are burned down or have fallen into serious disrepair. Alleyways lead from more modern hutong scenes into ancient China.
China’s own Last Chance Saloon contains tonnes of props and relics from the height of the movie age.
Climbing up to the roof of the studio, you can get a great overview of the entire site. Be very careful though, the concrete balcony is crumbling and it is three floors down.
You don’t really realise the scale of the site until you get up on top. The main studio is all locked up. That calls for another midnight trip.
The site combines Western and Eastern styles, probably as was seen in Shanghai in the nineteenth and twentieth century.
Huge lot doors are overgrown with tumbleweeds and thick Beijing dust chokes the air.
In a hidden garden Laughing Buddha overlooks an army of plaster soldiers and demi-gods.
There are myriad doors and gates to get lost in, and the whole place has a strong sense of the film Labyrinth with its grey bricks and twisting turns.
With all this in mind, Beijing Film Academy is a perfect slice of nostalgia from a mixture of Chinese eras that never existed. It confuses the senses, and as the sun sets you are left feeling even more confused.
For these reason Burbex awards Beijing Film Academy with a B+ grade. If you would like to come along and see the site for yourself, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How can the weather alter change the nature of the urbex landscape?
One of the things that you have to deal with in Beijing is the constant onslaught of crazy climate. It might be in the summer with sweat pouring down your butt crack, soot stuck to your face at Capital Steel, or on super smoggy day’s when you cannot see more than one hundred metres like at Sunshine Park.
Nothing is better that the first snow of the winter though, especially when it just so happens to be the day that you are going to the Banana Factory.
It’s is not really a banana factory, it’s a huge chemical works which stretches for miles and miles. The banana part comes in because the Chinese word for banana 蕉 and the Chinese word for chemical 焦 sound the same.
These tracks and the furnaces at the side are very similar to the ones at Capital Steel, just on a smaller scale. The blizzard that raged around the place though made it feel much more hazardous.
There are artefacts galore here at the Chemical Works, in fact most of the place looks like it has been swallowed up with orange mud and then left to fossilise.
There are broken remnants of the offices strewn about, and old laboratories still contain old machines and equipment.
The caption in the old style Communist propaganda sign above reads:- FOR EVEN HIGHER STANDARDS PRESERVE OUR YOUTH CULTURE BY HOWLING GLORY. I’m not really sure what that means either.
Here’s another of those meaningless signs. This ones reads:- ESTABLISH LEGAL SYSTEMS, PRACTISE SAFETY FIRST. At least that one is a bit less opaque.
Just like in Capital Steel, conveyor belts which used to transmit coal or slag from one side of the site to the other, curl up like the skins of long dead snakes.
The factory opens up into rooms and warehouses where the blanched walls run with chemical stains and spreading rust.
Light fittings decay in their settings and fall leaving russet stains in the fresh snow.
Thick Beijing dust absorbs the moisture in the air and becomes a thick crust of mud that covers and preserves the whole site.
The pipes and engines that ran the site have been gutted and torn apart by scavengers. Whatever is left behind rusts in a bed of snow.
The cooling tower stands on its spindly legs, a commanding presence over the site. Beneath the tower, all is still.
Beneath the abandoned cooling tower lies a pool of water rippling gently in the blizzard breeze.
One of the myriad entrances to the main building is affectionately referred to as CENTURY GATE. Did the architects realise their factory would be dead by the beginning of the new century?
Massive iron hooks swing on chains gently creaking.
Fume cupboards with their doors ripped off create caverns and caves in the site, ideal for hiding from security guards.
While it does have a lot in common with its older and much larger cousin Capital Steel, Jiaohua is a much more recently abandoned site and has a slight edge in terms of its charm. There are many more artifacts to be discovered, and it is going to be drawing Burbex back for more visits once the weather warms up.
For all of these reasons and more, Jiaohua is getting a solid A grade from Burbex. It should be noted that Jiaohua is slightly edgier in terms of danger, so if you are going to visit, please pay close attention to your safety.
Of course, should you need a guide, please don’t hesitate to contact me on email@example.com and we can go along together. The cost you ask? One Banana Blizzard from Dairy Queen.
Beijing has its fair share of kitschy European style developments in various states of abandonment (see the Olympic Homko villas), but the Tonghui International Bar Street 通惠国际酒吧街 really takes the biscuit.
Construction on this Swiss-style bar street began in 2010, and was expected to open in 2014. Somewhere towards the end of the timeline, the project was abandoned, and now the town clock chimes to an empty village every hour.
The street itself is based on the Alpine Swiss town of Interlaken, and as well as the charismatic design of the street, the development also boasts 18,000 square metres of underground shopping space.
You can check out some of the original designs do the complex at Su Landscape, the company which designed the wooden facades. All of the complex is still completely unoccupied, and gaining access is extremely simple.
One very old security guard sleeps in a fairy tale cottage at the far end of the street (above: right of the green guesthouse).
The best way to move from building to building is either by the tunnels that thread their way under the street, or even better, to jump in and out of windows like a fairy tale goblin or elf.
Unusually, even though the exteriors of the buildings are complete and boast some fantastic and unusual decorations, the interiors are just cement, and none of the buildings have stairs to the first floor.
Apparently, Tonghui International was part of a 400 million yuan project by The Chaoyang Planning Commission, trying to invigorate business close to Guomao, the economic centre of Beijing.
Whatever the case, the project is dead now, and the street and underground shopping mall both lie dormant.
A metal fence surrounds the street, and in the front yard there is a bronze horse and cart created in 2008 according to the date on the horse’s rump.
With its easy access and fairy tale weirdness, Tonghui International Bar Street gets a B+ from Burbex.
By the way, if you loved this great leisure site, be sure to check out these other great urbex sites in Beijing, like Floating Dragon Lake Amusement Park, and The Great Mall of China in neighbouring Hebei.
Of course if you want to come along, just drop me a line, and don’t forget to bring your Swiss cheese. I hope you know how to yodel.