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Spotlight on History: the Beijing Tar Pits


by Reg Micklewhite

Located to the north-east of the fifth ring road, the Beijing Tar Pits were actually man-made. An abandoned prototype for a badly thought out and nearly useless defence project, the pits were created in 1933 to act as a barrier against an invasion by Japanese armed forces. This plan, which was clearly never going to work, was the brainwrong of Professor Ping Fuwen who said at the time "just as a fly may be trapped in delicious jam or honey, so too shall those Japanese bastards get what they deserve in our ingenious tar pits".

Though the pits did virtually nothing to even slow the military subjugation of China, they did manage to claim the lives of three Japanese soldiers. Drunk and lost after a party at an orphanage they had helped to build, the soldiers were sucked to their sticky graves on July 21st 1941. A memorial stands to there to this day. One of their hats is still visible in the centre of Pit D but, lacking a sufficiently long stick, no one can retrieve it without risking their own life.

As well as admiring the natural beauty of the viscous, bubbling goo, visitors to the five pits can also view a fascinating gallery of items retrieved from excavations through the sides of the pits into the lower solidified sections. Amongst the historical artefacts on display include the body and aeroplane of Gordon Strachey, a downed pilot with the famous Flying Tigers squadron during the war, a collection of 1950s crockery, and the preserved bodies of various wild animals and children that have, over the years, fallen into the pits.

Some of the more valuable exhibits are housed in hermetically sealed vaults, only brought out for the public to see on special occasions. The next of these Tar Pit History Gala days is on the 9th of September - go then to see the most prized item in the collection, a set of 25 mint condition copies of Suzanne Vega's 1987 album Solitude Standing.