Early tomorrow morning I should be getting on my fold-out bicycle and peddling from Taizhou to Dantu, which is a district of Zhenjiang, on the south side of the Yangtze River. A 70 kilometer trip — not bad. My estimated time of departure is 5 AM, and I aim to be there around nine, but hopefully I will get sidetracked with various intrigues along the way.
Dantu is one of China’s oldest “ghost cities,” a new urban center that was built over a decade ago but hardly anybody moved into. Places like this are actually ghost towns in reverse: instead of a being abandoned they were never occupied to begin with. Because it has been around for awhile, Dantu is a key to understanding the phenomenon of China’s white elephants: new, large-scale development projects that are built but never used. The Chinese government and developers claim that the dozens of ghost cities and millions of empty apartments that they’ve built in recent years will eventually be given life and filled with peopled. But Dantu has been just sitting there, all ready to go for more than ten years.
Is this place rotting to ruins or is it slowly being filled with people? Is there a chance that these ghost cities may one day blossom to fruition like the Chinese claim? Or are they trophies of corruption and a blood-stained GDP like the international media portrays them?
But I do know that neither the Western nor the Chinese media can be believed when it comes to evaluating issues about this country. Both sides have their agenda, their propaganda angle, their spin, and both deliver reports that are full of conjecture, smokescreen, and downright lies. The Chinese media has to contend with censorship and is pretty much the squawk box of the government while the Western media is financed by hype-marketing and is curtailed into delivering reports that are consistent with the pre-conceived notions, political affinity, and worldview of their readership.
To really learn anything about China you need to go to the source yourself, make observations, talk to the people who live there . . . well, if there are any people living there.