Ghost Cities of China

China has been building like crazy, investing billions in infrastructure and real estate. But they’re building faster than the population is growing. This neighborhood in Chenggong is just one out of many that may remain uninhabited for years.

Amazingly, many of these properties have already sold — to mostly young, middle class people. They aren’t living in them, though. The middle class in China is booming, and the apartments and houses in these new cities are affordable. They are essentially investing in the real estate market.

The people of China are not allowed to invest abroad. With few options, many people are putting their savings into real estate. Some individuals with no investment experience have bought as many as ten apartments.

Tens of millions of villagers have been displaced in order to make room for these homes. The problem is, these homes are too expensive for them. Their farmlands have also been cleared to build these towns.


Some people have invested more than their life savings into these homes. In many cases, they’ve spent three generations worth of family fortune. They hope to turn around and sell the properties for a profit, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll make any money. In fact, they may very well lose everything.

They are even building a replica of Manhattan, with a Rockefeller Center, Times Square, and Twin Towers that are taller than the original. Construction has recently been halted on this project. The rumor is that financial backers have gone into debt, and can no longer pay for construction to continue.


The Manhattan replica is being built on a saltwater marsh in the port city of Tianjin. The developers of the new area, named Yujiapu, are still hoping that it will become the world’s largest financial center. They plan on building connections to China’s high speed rail system, a tunnel under the sea, and a subway system.


In Hangzhou Province, you’ll find an eerie replica of Paris, complete with a scale model of the Eiffel Tower, intended to house 10,000 people. Of the few people that do live here, most of them are construction workers who are building another theme-village next to this one. China has also built a miniature London, Thames and Hallstadt.

Many of China’s ghost cities are extensions of existing mining towns, but most of the miners still live in their old homes. Many rural residents are being displaced by the expansion of these cities. They are forced to move elsewhere because the apartments in these new buildings are far more expensive than what they can afford.

The New South China Mall opened in 2005, but it remains almost completely empty to this day. It features a Venitian canal, amusement parks, and virtually no shopping. There are several malls like this scattered across China, built with the hope that someday, people will work and shop there. Several have remained vacant for years.

The New South China Mall has room for 2,350 stores. 99% of the leasable property in the shopping center has been vacant since day one. The mall, in the suburbs of Dongguan, is only accessible by car or bus. Many people in the area simply can’t get to it.


This castle is part of an abandoned amusement park called Wonderland. Construction was halted in 1998 on what was intended to be the “largest amusement park in Asia.” This castle is one of several unfinished structures that were left to decay after financial problems forced developers to halt construction.


No one is sure how this is going to affect the Chinese — and global — economy. The Chinese government is planning to move 250 million people from rural areas into some of these towns within the next 15 years. It’s unclear how that will work, since the real estate is so expensive.


This small city was once marshland, but now it’s a ghost town. It was hoped that construction and urbanization would spur economic growth. But with few businesses and no jobs to speak of in these cities, no one will move here.


Though this city in northeastern China remains mostly unoccupied, the government still pays people to keep the streets and public squares clean. Beyond government and construction jobs, there is hardly any work here. Still, the city’s government projects that it will have spent over $1 billion on building projects by the end of the year.


The buildings in Inner Mongolia stand like giant tributes to the idea of constant development, yet they remain empty. This government building is fenced off and unoccupied. The real estate investors who have bought property here are waiting patiently for people to move in, so that they can profit from their investments.


The government has spent millions in this town alone, building schools, offices and houses. Housing prices have risen steadily in China over the past few decades. So people keep buying the property for investment purposes, because they believe housing prices will continue to rise.


The city of Ordos is large, with a population of almost 2 million people. But New Ordos, just next door, is hardly occupied at all. No one works in this municipal building in the new city.


The Kangbashi district of Ordos contains vast expanses of homes, as well as office towers, museums and theaters. All almost completely empty. The homes here cost anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000, but the people who have been displaced live on about $2 per day. They’re not likely to be moving in anytime soon.


China has built so much property that it isn’t likely to be fully occupied in the next decade, and possibly even longer than that. They may be facing a similar economic crisis as the US housing bubble of the past few years. When the bubble burst, it sent a shockwave across the entire economy.

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