China’s Ghost Cities and Abandoned Factories!

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China is an unrivalled powerhouse in the global economy. For the last three decades, its growth has outpaced that of all other nations. Entire industries that took decades to mature in the West have sprung up in just a few years.

Much of this activity takes place in designated industrial zones where new cities have been built from scratch to accommodate the workers flooding in from rural regions to be a part of the boom.  Between 1984 and 2010, the amount of built-up areas in China increased nearly fivefold – from 3,413 square miles (8,842 squrae kilometres) to 16,126 square miles (41,768 square kilometres).

To construct these new urban zones, China used more concrete in the three years between 2011 and 2013 than the whole of the United States used in the 20th Century.  Yet even in the world’s second largest economy, the rate of development has overtaken demand.

Faced with falling prices and slumping sales – partly due to overproduction — the Chinese government has had to step in to cut back some industries.

It has meant huge lay-offs. In areas like Hebei, a northern province that surrounds Beijing, the impact has been especially hard. This was once a thriving region, long regarded as the country’s steel belt.

Many of its state-owned plants have been shut down and now lie empty. Privately owned steel mills are struggling to survive.  The same fate has befallen other low-tech sectors, creating so-called “zombie factories” across the country.

China’s Abandoned Cities

China, known for its rapid urbanization and development, has several cities and areas that have become known as “ghost cities” or abandoned cities. These cities, often built with grand plans for future expansion and population growth, ended up with significantly fewer residents than anticipated. Here’s a list of some of the most notable abandoned or underpopulated cities in China:

  1. Ordos Kangbashi: Located in Inner Mongolia, this city was planned for over a million people but has remained largely empty. It’s often cited as the quintessential example of China’s ghost cities.
  2. Tianducheng: Near Hangzhou, Tianducheng is famous for its replica of the Eiffel Tower and Parisian-style architecture. It was intended to house tens of thousands but has struggled to attract residents.
  3. Nanhui New City: Situated near Shanghai, Nanhui was designed to accommodate around 800,000 people. However, it has faced challenges in attracting residents, partly due to its distance from central Shanghai.
  4. Caofeidian: Located in Hebei province, Caofeidian was envisioned as an eco-city and industrial area. Despite significant investment, it has struggled with high vacancy rates.
  5. Zhengdong New District: In Zhengzhou, Henan province, this area was developed as a modern urban center but experienced low occupancy in its early years, though it has seen more inhabitants recently.
  6. Yujiapu Financial District: Often dubbed as China’s Manhattan, this area in Tianjin was designed to be a financial hub but has faced difficulties in attracting businesses and residents.
  7. Tieling New City: In Liaoning province, this city was part of the region’s revitalization plan but has struggled with high vacancy rates and low economic activity.
  8. Dantu: Near Zhenjiang in Jiangsu province, Dantu has seen large-scale development with insufficient occupancy, leading to it being labeled as a ghost city.
  9. Erenhot: This city, on the border with Mongolia, saw a property boom due to speculative investment but ended up with many unoccupied buildings.
  10. Wujin: Located in the Changzhou area of Jiangsu province, Wujin saw rapid development but subsequently faced issues with high property vacancy rates.

These cities, while often portrayed as completely abandoned, usually do have some population, but far less than their intended capacity. The reasons for their low occupancy rates vary, including location, economic factors, and the speculative nature of real estate development in China. Some of these cities have seen gradual increases in population and business activity in recent years, as the government and developers adjust their strategies.

China’s Abandoned Factories

China’s abandoned factories are a testament to the rapid industrial and economic shifts that the country has experienced over recent decades. Here are some key aspects and reasons behind the phenomenon of these abandoned factories:

  1. Shift from Manufacturing to Service: China’s economy has been transitioning from being predominantly manufacturing-based to focusing more on service industries and high-tech manufacturing. This shift has rendered some traditional factories obsolete.
  2. Urbanization and Relocation: Rapid urbanization in China has led to the relocation of many factories. Industries once located in or near urban centers have moved to rural areas or other countries with lower labor costs, leaving their old facilities abandoned.
  3. Environmental Regulations: Increasing environmental awareness and stricter regulations have forced some heavily polluting factories to shut down. This is particularly true for industries like steel, coal, and chemical manufacturing.
  4. Urban Exploration Sites: These abandoned factories have become sites for urban exploration, attracting photographers and adventurers drawn to their post-industrial aesthetics and historical significance.
  5. Cultural and Artistic Value: In some cases, abandoned factories have been repurposed into cultural spaces, art galleries, or venues for creative industries, reflecting a growing appreciation for industrial heritage.

The abandoned factories in China are more than just relics of a bygone industrial era; they are symbols of the country’s rapid transformation and its ongoing journey towards economic modernization and diversification. They represent both the challenges of change and the potential for innovation in how urban spaces are used and reimagined.

 

Abandoned New South China Mall

New South China Mall

New South China Mall in Guangdong Province opened in 2005. With 5 million square feet of shopping area, the mall can accommodate 2,350 stores, making it the largest shopping center in the world in terms of leasable space — more than twice the size of Mall of America, the biggest shopping center in the United States.

At the outdoor plaza, hundreds of palm-trees blend with a replica Arc de Triomphe, a giant Egyptian sphinx, fountains and long-stretching canals with gondolas.

Only problem is, the mall is virtually deserted. Despite the bombastic design and grand plans, only a handful of stores are occupied. “Most of it empty, with little consumer traffic and a high vacancy rate,” according to a report last year by Emporis, a global building data firm. “It has been classified as a ‘dead mall.’

Ghosy town Gouqi Island

Abandoned Chinese Fishing village Overtaken by Nature

This Chinese fishing village has been left abandoned for more than 50 years, and now has been overtaken by nature. The village is on Gouqi island, one of the 394 islands that form the archipelago of Shengsi islands. Although the area still attracts over 100,000 fishermen every winter, fishing practices have diminished during the last decades leading to the abandonment of previously flourishing fishing villages.

Abandoned TV Studios in Hong Kong

Near the Che Kung temple, in Ho Chung village of Hong Kong there is an old industrial building. A factory at first, it was later converted to TV studios for Hong Kong’s ATV channel. The studios were abandoned during the 2000’s as the channel moved to modern facilities. Today, this huge urban space is being reclaimed by nature, and graffiti artists. And as it often happens with abandoned buildings, many claim that the site is haunted.

The Haunted House of Beijing

The beautiful three-story French Baroque-style house at Chaonei No. 81 is a well-known anomaly of Beijing. Small courtyard properties in this area of China’s capital city sell for millions of dollars, and yet this once lavish mansion lies in a state of decay. The reason no one will go near it? Fear of ghosts and death.

Local legend has it this amazing mansion was built by the Qing imperial family as a church for British residents of Beijing. In 1949, when the Communists had just defeated the Nationalists and were making their way into the city, the high-ranking Kuomintang official living in the house at the time abandoned his wife, leaving her to face the Communists all by her safe. Devastated, she allegedly hung herself from the rafters of their impressive home. Many believe her troubled spirit has been haunting the place ever since, and few dare venture inside by themselves, especially during the night.

The once luxurious mansion is now a dilapidated shadow of its former self, covered with graffiti warning daredevils to stay away and full of empty alcohol bottles and cigarette buts. Despite its location in the center of Beijing, where prices for small properties are in the millions, there are currently no plans to do anything with this particular building. Ghost stories keep potential tenants away, and the building is now on a historic preservation list so it can’t be torn down, just renovated. So everyone seems to be waiting for it crumble on its own.

Fengdu Ghostly City China

Fengdu Ghost City

The city consists of buildings, structures, dioramas, and statues that are related to Diyu, the concept of the underworld and hell (or Naraka) in Chinese mythology and Buddhism. It is modeled to resemble Youdu, the capital of Diyu.

After the building of the Three Gorges Dam and the rising of the water level of the river it became separated from the city of Fengdu, which was rebuilt higher up the mountainside on the south side of the river.

According to legend, Fengdu got its name of Ghost city during the Eastern Han Dynasty when two imperial officials, Yin Changsheng and Wang Fangping, came to Ming mountain to practice Taoism and in the process became immortals.

The combination of their names, Yinwan, means “King of Hell” and that was the beginning of the site’s focus on the underworld. Many of the temples and shrines show paintings and sculptures of people being tortured for their sins.

According to Chinese beliefs, the dead must pass three tests before passing to the next life.

First they must pass the ‘Bridge of Helplessness’. This stone bridge was built during the Ming Dynasty and is a test for Good and Evil. It has three arches and only the middle one is used for testing people. There are different protocols for crossing the bridge depending on sex, age, marital status. At the bridge demons allow or forbid passage. The good are allowed to pass while the evil will be pushed to the water below.

This is now done as a tourist attraction and performers characterised as demons momentarily stop tourists on the bridge but finally allow them across.

Then the dead must proceed to Ghost-Torturing Pass where they present themselves for judgment before Yama, King of Hell. This is the second test. In this area there are large sculptures of demons.

Chinas Abandoned Wonderland

One of the most famous abandoned theme parks has to be China’s Abandoned Wonderland.  “Wonderland” was supposed to be the Chinese version of Disneyworld. The ruins of what would be the biggest theme park in Asia are situated just 45 minutes outside the center of Beijing, on a 100-acre plot of land. Construction begun in 1998 by the Reignwood Group (a Thai-owned property developer) but it stopped around the year 2000 after disagreements with the local government and farmers over property prices.

Developers briefly tried to restart construction in 2008, but without success. Property prices in China have risen 140% since 1998. Reuters photographer David Grey says ‘Wonderland’ is “another sad example of property development in China involving wasted money, wasted resources and the uprooting of farmers and their families.

Conclusion

In China, the shift from industries like steel production to electronics, telecommunications and biotechnology has happened very quickly.  Europe and the United States underwent a similar shift over the course of several decades, as industries expanded and matured. China’s high-tech revolution took just a few years.

Driving some of this change is the Chinese government’s own attempts to restructure its country’s economy, leaving traditional sectors like mining, steel production and cement manufacturing to bear the brunt of the job losses. In the cities of Changzhi and Luliang, close to the Yellow River in the northern province of Shanxi, the shells of cement factories that have been unable to survive these changes lie empty.

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