Throughout America, you can find the old cellar holes and cemeteries that mark the location where some colonial village once stood. American forests are filled with such communities of the past. They are usually former farming villages or mining outpost towns that got swept away by the advent of new technologies like trains, or paved roads and the automobile.
There are even places where some of the actual structures still stand, and have become tourist attractions. You’ll find places like Jerome, Arizona with its line of abandoned saloons down Main Street, or Centralia in Pennsylvania where an underground coal fire forced all residents to eventually move away.
However, China ghost cities are different. They are not abandoned towns reflecting ghosts of the past. Instead, they are large abandoned cities reflecting ghosts of times that would never come.
These ghost cities were first covered in great detail in the middle of 2011 when Business Insider published a series of shocking satellite images of the abandoned cities filled with concrete high-rises clustered together, waiting for residents that never came. (4) Michael Christopher, a Time Magazine photographer, went to China and obtained some of the most haunting images of those cities.
How China Ghost Cities Happened
Derek Thompson, senior editor of the Atlantic, explained the problem in a June 2011 article where he describes how China’s construction boom during the economic prime produced dozens of these cities. Chinese investors – people within the party with enough money and guanxi to obtain the land – built massive skyrise apartments with the anticipation of citizens, buoyed by the booming economy and better jobs, moving into those areas. (1)
To build the cities, China consumed massive quantities of the world’s metal and concrete.
Unfortunately, as banks continue to increase interest rates since 2010 and such investments slow down, there is also less likelihood that the Chinese middle class will ever be able to afford moving into any of those brand new, empty cities.
Oddly enough, the Chinese government appears oblivious that there’s even a problem. According to the Daily Mail, China has plans to build 20 more cities just like these every year, for the next 20 years. (2) In other words, for Chinese Communists, the appearance of growth and expansion – even if it is completely empty and void of substance – is better than no growth at all.
Chenggong has row after row of skyscrapers totally 100,000 new apartments, but those impressive apartment buildings remain vacant – there is no life in these communities. There is only a ghostly reminder of waste, greed and irresponsible misuse of resources that could have gone toward improving the lives of millions of Chinese citizens. Instead, structures were built in the hopes of attracting the money of up-and-coming middle-class Chinese citizens, who never materialized.
Gillem Tulloch, a Forensic Asia Limited analyst, described what Chenggong is like to Daily Mail journalists, calling it a “forest of skyscrapers”. He said that China still continues to build even more such ghost cities, consuming ever more steel, iron and cement than any other country in the world.
Michael Christopher, a Time Magazine photographer, captured stunning images of China ghost cities such as Kangbashi, where investors believe there would be a million people living there by 2010. (3)
It is a beautiful community with quiet paved streets, sidewalks, landscaping and beautiful architecture. However, it stands just as empty as a 1950’s American nuclear test site waiting for the bomb to drop.
One would expect to see test-dummy mannequins in the windows.
Ordos, China, also offered Christopher with a shocking landscape snapshot featuring row upon row of mostly empty apartment buildings.
However, Christopher did manage to catch one brief passerby and a few scant cars parked along Ordos new, massive commercial district, where there almost no businesses have moved into the complex.
In the Zhengzhou New District, you can see massive public buildings that were constructed, but mostly remain unused today. The overhead imagery shows that when it comes to architectural expression, the Chinese are certainly not lacking. However, what such massive projects do show is a lack of foresight and caution.
Despite all of these images, and the realization that even years after millions of residents were expected to be living in these homes and none are there, Chinese authorities have not given up on the idea that if it has the money to spend, it will build even more buildings.
It takes the whole concept of “if you build it, they will come” to a whole new level.
Tulloch explained to the Daily Mail that China is consuming all of those resources for nothing.
“It’s all going to railways that will never make money, roads that no one drives on and cities that no one lives in. It’s like walking into a forest of skyscrapers, but they’re all empty.”
He said that people joke no one in Denaya can afford to rent any of the apartments in the area, and that if any of the apartments do sell, it would only be to other investors, speculating on a future that remains very uncertain.