No, Chongqing doesn’t exist only on TikTok

Videos and photos of China’s megalopolis of 30 million people appear on our mobile phones every day, but few people know about it: remember the video of the subway that goes through buildings?

Until a few years ago, before the TikTok era, few people had heard of Chongqing, even though it is one of the most densely populated cities in the world according to UN’s World Population Prospects 2022. It has an estimated population of over 17 million people in the metropolitan area, and about 9 million in the city proper.

Today, some people know it as China’s ‘cyberpunk city,’ because looking at it through the lens of a smartphone, Chongqing recalls the maze of multilevel buildings and suspended infrastructures of Akira, or the dystopian atmosphere between neon lights and surrounding darkness of Blade Runner. Others simply remember it as ‘the city where trains go through buildings.’ Indeed, these are the images that have gone viral thanks to social media and have ignited interest in the city from afar.

@oneinazizillion Can safely say I climbed 22 storey building in less than 1 minute. #traveltok #china #chongqing #solotravel ♬ Le Monde - From Talk to Me - Richard Carter

The development on a mountainous area, combined with the technological progress that characterizes China’s big cities – from Shanghai to Beijing – has resulted in a series of ‘oddities’ that can be found in Chongqing, and that are driving TikTok users crazy.
The skyline of the Chinese city is a mix of ultramodern architecture juxtaposed with traditional wooden buildings, as shown by the view from the bridge that crosses the Yangtze River and connects the Dadukou and Banan districts, perhaps one of the most picturesque and photographed spots in all of Chongqing.

Among the most distinctive skyscrapers, in 2022 the Chongqing Gaoke Group Office was completed, a project by Aedas that twists upon itself and is affectionately termed a ‘dance of light’ by its designers. Another notable project is Raffles City, designed by Safdie Architects, featuring a complex of 8 towers – as the number of years it took to design and build it – with 4 towers interconnected by the iconic ‘horizontal skyscraper.’ This structure has become one of the city’s main attractions, boasting a panoramic observatory on the 42nd floor that offers views of the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers.

It is precisely the presence of rivers flowing through the city, combined with the significant elevation changes of the mountainous area, that has led to the development of a complex infrastructure network in Chongqing. This complexity is such that TikTokers caution that trying to navigate using a mapping app is practically impossible. Chongqing features numerous bridges and viaducts spanning rivers and valleys. In areas like Yuzhong District, many highways and main roads are elevated, creating a dense and intricate network of roads.

Sometimes it is difficult to immediately understand which floor you are on, and it is not uncommon to enter a building where the entrance and exit are on completely different levels. The disorientation and surprise of thinking you are on the ground floor when you are actually on the 22nd floor have become a perfect format for TikTok reels. In fact, they have become so popular that the search term ‘chongqing 22 floor’ is one of the most trending.

These elevation differences, combined with the need to densify a rapidly expanding city, often lead to bizarre outcomes. Examples include Line 2 of the subway, which went viral for passing through a residential building with Liziba station situated between the sixth and eighth floors, or the gas station built on the rooftop of a six-story building.

The combination of these peculiarities captures attention on social media, transforming Chongqing into a futuristic playground for those who have never visited it. This attention may also contribute to an increase in tourists, especially since this year until November, travelers from 12 European countries, including Italy, benefit from visa-free travel to China.

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