At the beginning of last year when I said that there are no ghost cities in China (yet), many people thought that I was lying, mistaken, or just trying to take a contrary view on principle or to garner attention for myself. After all, 60 Minutes, Dateline, and many other major Western news agencies sent their correspondents out to take a look at these places, and most reported back that they were empty, without people, and all the buildings were deserted. Their reports had video shots of endless slabs of empty apartments, construction sites, deserted streets, and shopping malls without stores, but right behind their cameras, as was often the case, were people, businesses, and fully inhabited apartment complexes. Basically, they bluffed their way onto a “crazy China story,” and sold pre-written scripts as investigative journalism. They sought ghost cities and made sure they found them.
This is my opinion after spending the past two years going to China’s so-called ghost cities. I talked to the people who live in them, interviewed their designers, hung out with their builders, walked through their malls, and knocked on apartment doors. I got to know these places pretty well, and while there often isn’t much going on in them, not many come close to earning the ghost city title . . . yet.
But don’t take my word for it. Now you can look at two of China’s most famous ghost cities for yourself. The following are two interactive street views of Zhengzhou Zhengdong and Ordos Kangbashi. Both of these districts have received massive amounts of media attention for not having any people, now you can check them out without relying on the camera angles of the Western MSM or myself.
This is the place where 60 Minutes’ Leslie Stahl claimed to have, “. . . found what they call a ghost city of new towers with no residents, desolate condos, and vacant subdivisions uninhabited for miles, and miles, and miles.” She said this as a camera panned over a cityscape that I found myself in a couple of days after the report aired. This is what I found: A Journey to China’s Largest Ghost City.
The problem with Ordos Kangbashi, and what makes it so easy to call a ghost city, is that it was made on such a grandiose, larger than life scale that it appears empty. China’s new cities are monuments. They are monuments to the rise — real, perceived, or hoped for — of the municipalities that build them, and there is an overt tendency to overdo it. Rather than building comfortable new districts on simple, human-centric plans, they tend to make these gargantuan creations that will make everybody take notice. Well, everybody did notice Ordos Kangbashi, but not for the right reasons.
Kangbashi district currently has capacity for 300,000 residents (the master plan was for a million, but not all of it has been built yet) and has one of the largest public squares on the planet running down the center of it. Visitors go there and take pictures of the horse statues and Genghis Khan, the egg shaped museum and the library that looks like books on a shelf and think the town is empty. But this is just because they didn’t go to where the people are. If you double back, and head over a couple of streets you will find a completely different Ordos Kangbashi. There you will find a McDonalds and a food mall that serves thousands of people each day. You will find shops lining the streets. You will find apartment buildings full of residents. Ordos Kangbashi is a just a normal new city wearing clothes that are too big for it, not a ghost town.
This is what I found there: Ordos Kangbashi: China’s Most Famous Ghost City Comes Alive.
Have a look at the above embeds for yourself and let us know what you think of these ghost cities in the comments below.