Several weeks ago, I posted an item on the effort to turn three sites associated with the Manhattan Project into a National Park. The post was titled “This Is Where Great-Grandpa Helped to Build the Bomb,” and someone apparently employed by the National Park Service responded by characterizing the post as “uninformed” because, in his or her view, I did not appreciate the Park Service’s commitment to preserving sites of historical importance. I replied to the comment by saying that although I did very much appreciate such efforts, I did not see how it was appropriate to turn these sites into a National Park–rather than, for instance, simply designating them as national historic sites.
In addition, as Hank Reichman noted in another comment on the post, at least one of the three sites is a Superfund site—something that I made a dark, though less explicit joke about in the post when I tried to imagine what sort of tourist-interest gimmicks the Park Service might have in mind for this new park: “Will they be helped into 1940s-style radiation-proof suits, given Geiger counters, and walked through some part of the site where Geiger counters are sure to start clicking? And what’s next? A series of National Parks centered on the facilities at which we have developed biological and chemical weapons? Will this new system of parks celebrating our capacity to imagine and engineer endless mechanisms of our own annihilation somehow become another vacation option for folks who have already visited the major National Parks that preserve natural wonders?
Well, perhaps from reading the National Park’s e-mails on these sites, the Chinese have now designated one of their atomic-bomb development centers as a national memorial and, doing us one better, have made it part of one of their major universities–and, in doing so, have transformed a fake college into a part of an actual university without any apparent sense of the ironies involved:
Yingqi, Cheng. “Former Mystery Site Celebrates Nuclear Past.” China Daily 14 Sep. 2015.
An architectural complex that occupies 6,000 square meters on a mountainside in Beijing’s Huairou district has long been a mystery for nearby residents.
Called the Beijing College of Mining & Technology, the facility wasn’t for students. In fact, it was scientists who started moving in before the buildings were completed. Laboratory equipment delivered to the site was strictly guarded by soldiers.
Now, 61 years after China exploded its first atomic bomb, the Chinese Academy of Sciences has declassified the site–a secret rocket development center and laboratory where China’s pioneering scientists once developed satellites and nuclear bombs.
“The bombs and satellites were significant milestones in our country’s development and are the pride of the whole nation,” said Cao Xiaoye, deputy secretary-general of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, at the opening ceremony of a new memorial hall on the old experimental site.
Since 1958, more than 17,000 researchers from the academy participated in the development of satellites and nuclear bombs. Many of their names were never disclosed, even after the success of China’s first atomic bomb in 1964.
“To commemorate those scientists who contributed to the country’s great success, the Chinese Academy of Sciences decided in 2013 to turn the old rocket facility into a memorial hall,” Cao said.
Exhibitions inside the hall include experimental devices, photos and handwritten documents.
The site is now contained within the Huairou campus of the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences. The opening ceremony was one of the activities for the university’s new school year.