Yet for the most part these cities are empty: vast urban developments still waiting for people to bring them to life.
Ghost towns are generally indicators that boom times have gone: here, they’ve been erected in the expectation of prosperity, evidence of China’s remarkable economic growth – or a sign that it’s rigging its GDP, and that its position as emerging global leader is based on hollow promises.
In the West, cities are organic developments. In China, they’re being built from the ground up, with historic neighbourhoods on the fringes of existing cities being bulldozed and replaced by tourist-friendly replicas, and much use of ‘duplitecture’, the counterfeiting of European cityscapes – not so much an act of homage to foreign achievements as it is an assertion that China has mastered and surpassed the Western powers.
The Catch-22 is that people don’t want to move somewhere without a supporting infrastructure, and the infrastructure can’t materialise without the people. To foreign observers, the project thus seems doomed, but in China ‘they have the means to force these things’, not least through the state ownership of land. In Shepard’s view, the outcome is inevitable: given its extraordinary reserves, China’s ‘excessive urbanisation is not going to collapse its economy or trigger a global melt down’. When construction has ended, the real building will begin.
GHOST CITIES OF CHINA by Wade Shepard, Zed Books, £14.99 (paperback)
This review was published in the May 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine