China has enough empty homes to house the entire population of Italy. Buildings and parks built in rural areas are vacant. This is different from major cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

China’s Ghost Cities

Ordos: the biggest ghost town in China

What are ghost cities? Ghost cities are new installations built in under-occupied suburban areas.

Suppose you’re looking to experience a surreal dystopian city filled with futuristic buildings and almost no people. 

In that case, Ordos New Town is the most prominent ghost city in China to explore. 

Ordos (also known as Kangbashi) covers 90,000 acres in the middle of a desert in northern China. The local government decided to build the city from scratch. 

It was intended to house a million people in the early 2000s. But as of 2016, only a tenth of the intended population resides in the ghost city. 

But Ordos is not the only ghost city in China.

Real Estate in China

Unfinished buildings in Tianjin, China

Why do ghost cities exist in China? To answer this, it is imperative to look at what’s happening to real estate in the country. 

Real estate in China is developing at a disproportionate rate to the existing residents in the area. This often results in underdeveloped buildings and ghost cities. 

Evergrande’s recent debacle in 2021 is a testament to this. The private Chinese property company is an example of how ghost towns are formed. 

Evergrande rarely delivered on its promise to Chinese citizens who invested in the new city project. Now the real estate company faces a debt of $400 billion. 

New cities are usually started as government projects in rural areas that lack the population. This was through the belief that people will move once everything has been made. But that’s not always the case.

Success Stories of Ghost Cities

Shenzhen and Shanghai today

Shenzhen and Pudong are examples of successful urban development in China. 

Shenzhen started as a fishing village with a population of less than 50,000. Today, the city is China’s fourth-largest city. It is considered one of the wealthiest cities due to acting as the base of many high-tech companies. 

Pudong is the financial district in Shanghai, although it started as farmland. The district holds the world’s second tallest skyscraper, Shanghai Tower, and the iconic Oriental Pearl Tower. 

China intended for every new city to produce the same results. But these cities were just lucky. 

These success stories are rare and less representative of the real estate crisis in China. There are currently as many as 50 ghost cities and 64 million empty apartments across the country.

Building a city sounds easy after looking at the pictures of tall apartments, commercial buildings and modern architecture. 

But to build a city means building a community. Communities come with the bare foundation of homes, schools, hospitals and, most importantly, people. 


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Julia Kim

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