Too Much Too Soon: Why China’s Ghost Cities Remain Empty

When you picture China, you may see an over populated country with crazy high buildings and millions of shops, restaurants and other facilities. However, not all cities fill this criterion. In fact, you will find that many cities in the middle kingdom are actually deserted. These are called ghost cities.

There are currently 50 ghost cities in China. These cities include Chenggong, Ordos City, Miete Lake, Erenhot and Tianducheng. These cities have gone under millions of dollars worth of construction to build apartments, shopping centres and landscapes. Unfortunately, these cities have remained mostly uninhabited since their fruition. We will discuss why these ghost cities are unable to attract consumers and why the second biggest superpower in the world may be able to overcome this phenomenon.


Why Do These Cities Remain Under Populated?

There’s Too Much Infrastructure!

As much as developers want to believe that Chinese people would live anywhere in the country, the truth is these ‘ghost’ cities have too many buildings for the people in the area. This is because China became the largest manufacturing country in the world in 2011. Due to this, developers built entire cities in China with the expectation of housing millions of people. However, it turns out that not many Chinese citizens are interested in these new cities.



But how can a newly developed city be under-occupied when there are 1.379 billion people living in the country? Well like many other countries, most of us want to live in areas that are populated. This is because populated cities have a better standard of living with better education, jobs and social facilities. Let’s compare Sydney and Brisbane. First off, Sydney has a land size of 12,368 km squared with a population of 5.57 million people.


As for Brisbane, we are larger with 15,826 km squared but with only 2.3 million people living in our city.


Therefore, it is not hard to see why Shanghai, which has a land of 6,340 km squared facilitates 24.1 million (more than the whole of Australia) when Erenhot with the size of 4,015 km squared only houses 74,149 people. As you can see, unless a substantial amount of Chinese citizens move into these ‘new’ cities, they will remain under populated in the near future.

It’s Too Expensive

If you take a look at the facilities built in these areas, you’ll notice that these establishments attract a certain type of clientele. When these cities resemble huge towns such as Beijing and Shanghai, it’s quite obvious that these developers were targeting the wealthy. As a result, living in these apartments and opening businesses in the shopping centres cost nearly the same prices in Shanghai. The problem with gentrifying these once rural areas is that the people already living there cannot afford it. This is because the GDP per capita in China is 8,123.18 USD in 2016. Due to this, spaces in Ordos City and Chenggong are not able to attract enough citizens to profit from the developments.


It also doesn’t help to know that wealthy citizens simply don’t want to live there. Unlike poorer citizens who have to live in rural areas, wealthy citizens prefer living in populated places. Imagine you were a multimillionaire for a moment. Would you rather live in Paris or Tianducheng, which resembles Paris but without the facilities (shops, restaurants and jobs)? You would probably pick the former as most wealthy people would. Therefore, China’s ghost cities are unable to attract enough consumers because it isolates both the poor and the rich.


What Will Happen In The Future?

Although China is facing a problem with their ghost cities remaining uninhabited, it’s important to remember the reason why China might be able to overcome this.


China Is The Largest Country In The World

In a short amount of time, China was able to become the second biggest superpower (behind USA) in 2011. This is because over the past 30 years, China has been rapidly developed across the country due to the great influx of wealth. Therefore, it’s not hard to believe that China can overcome this as well. This is because China’s isn’t under populated (quite the opposite), it’s that most citizens want to have a higher standard of living. However, this won’t happen unless these ghost cities have enough facilities for the proposed amount of people. Therefore, ghost cities could benefit from lowering their prices to attract more consumers.



No matter how many more ghost cities appear, China will never stop developing them. Considering how fast China became the world’s biggest manufacturer, it’s normal to assume that China will eventually overcome this issue. Of course it may take longer than usual but one day, we may see cities such as Erenhot and Ordos City over populated as much as Shanghai.


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