Is this real? Empty cities in China.

Came across this today: Satellite Images of the Ghost Cities of China.

I don’t know what to make of this. They are claiming up to 64 million empty houses.

The last caption is either BS or a typo. A campus built to accommodate 2.3 million students? I realize they do things big in China, but Manhatten only serves 1.6 million people. The entire University of California system only has something like 100,000 students at one time.

There are some pretty big universities, but the biggest physical one on that list has 1.5 million students according to that list.

There certainly are a lot of build-but-unoccupied buildings in China. Many modern cities look like an impressive collection of skyscrapers, but the truth comes out at night when a large percent of them have no lights on in the windows. There are also countless beautiful, empty hotels, vast unused conference centers, well-equipped restaurants where nobody eats, etc.

China is having a huge building boom, and banks are loaning out money to basically anyone who calls themselves a “developer.” The theory is that China’s newfound wealth will draw people out of the countryside and into these shiny new cities. Time will tell if that will really happen on the scale that is being built for. Meanwhile, people are building recklessly, with no plan for how these developments will make money.

even sven: Do you have any personal knowledge of such things or some other kind of cites or information? I’m not trying to be a jerk here – I am trying to understand this.

I was in East Berlin before the wall came down and saw many big, fairly new apartment buildings which obviously had only a few people living in them and six lane city streets with only one or two cars passing by every couple of minutes, so I know these things can happen … but the scale of what that website shows in China is just incredible.

This is the probable source of the 2.3 million figure. It may be a typo, but it’s not completely out of the realm of reality.

Even small Chinese universities often function as small cities, with faculty and staff living on campus in residential housing blocks. University staff often puts down lifelong roots on campus, raising their kids, caring for their grandparents, buying and remodeling condos, etc. Universities will often have retail shopping districts, dozens of restaurants, elementary and middle schools, etc. There really isn’t much to differentiate some campuses from any other city besides the presence of academic buildings and the fact that most people living there are somehow affiliated with the school. But really, campuses tend to develop their own economies.

A city of 2.3 million in China really isn’t that large. I lived in a city of one million that you could easily walk across in forty minutes, and the place felt as small as Maybury. A university of 2.3 million people would be unusual, for sure. But it wouldn’t be as mind-blowing as it seems.

This has happened before. Didn’t the Empire State Building in Manhattan sit largely empty for the first 10 years or so after it was built? (And here in Minneapolis, our equivalent skyscraper, the Foshay Tower, had a lot of empty space in it’s first few years.)

Development & construction seems to commonly go thru boom & bust cycles.

I lived in Southwest China for a few years, and spent more than a few evenings strolling the quiet grounds of the empty developments that ringed my city. Even a cursory day-night comparison of a city like Chongqing makes things pretty clear- you can build it, but they might not come. Travelling around the area, I passed many, many “ghost cities.” There is a pretty huge one, for example, just outside of Guiyang. The effect of so many dark skyscrapers is, indeed, pretty creepy.

Here is an article on Beijing’s vacancy rate, which has reached 50%.

They called it the Empty State Building for a reason. But one empty building is hardly comparable to entire giant planned developments going unused.

There is a difference between a new office building that takes some time to find tenants, and entire cities being built for populations that are not there. China’s ghost cities are not a result of market forces, but rather comes out of a housing/finance system that is tightly controlled by the government. Right now, Chinese cities are in the process of privatizing and developing former government land. It is to the point where some cities get up to 40% of their income from selling off government property. Short-sighted municipal governments are loving the cash flow, prestige, and money that can rake in from kickbacks. They figure if building a little is good, than building a lot should be better. Why stop at building a park or school, when you can build entire new districts?

Meanwhile, a short-sighted national government, eager to keep China booming, hands out "development’ loans to all and sundry. For the moment, everyone is busy and everyone is getting rich. The money flows, the buildings rise, there is nothing not to love.

We’ll see if they have some kind of plan for all this.

Wow. I lived in Las Vegas while it grew from 100,000 to 1.5 million so I’ve seen some over-development and stretch to catch up … and I realize that a million and a half is waaaayyyy different from a billion and a half … but wow … even considering the difference in scale, this is weird … disturbing … kinda makes me want to watch Glenn Beck or something …

even sven, since you’ve lived there and have some personal knowledge, would you care to speculate on what’s going on? Is this just monetary greed, taking advantage of the international banks … or some kind of actual plan for a major increase in immigration, perhaps from North Korea … or just optimistic / poor planning … or what?

Ah. I should have previewed. Looks like you covered that. Thanks. And I am still disturbed.

Using the square-footage measurement they give in the article, I get a population density an order of magnitude denser then the densest neighborhood in Hong Kong, which according to wikipedia holds the world record for population density. I’m pretty sure 2.3 million on a single campus is a translation error the OP’s article picked up and didn’t double check.

In north Korea, there is a city built purposely for no one to live in. The south Koreans call it " Propaganda city".

Yup, Even Sven’s link has a link to the original Chinese story, which says

“一期按全日制在校生2.3万人规划,” roughly “23 thousand full time students are being planned for.”

Curiously, when I put this sentence into Google translate it comes up with “23 million” – so perhaps we also have the source of the error.

You know, this would be the perfect time to experiment …

I think it was Bucky Fuller who came up with plans for a huge domed city, sort of shaped like an astrodome deal, with homes and business and schools and shopping built terrace fashion [and a sports stadium tucked in the center part of the dome] with parks and stuff. I cant find it online [I found it during a stumble upon session when I was bored a few weeks ago] Found it!

It was designed to have the land surrounding it both landscaped and factory farmed, and was probably designed to be all public transportation with rail lines and busses to connect it with other city complexes. Almost like those old classic period chinese villages that are walled in.

This article discusses the Kangbashi district in Ordos, the first ghost city mentioned in the OP’s link.

Here is a TIME photo essay about Ordos:,29307,1975397,00.html

This article talks about some of the issues involved:

Here are some quotes from that article:

I can attest to this. In 1996 I spent a month studying Chinese at Anhui University. Inside the walled university compound there were just as many shops, food stalls, billboards, warehouses, and pool halls as outside. This was a very rural area, so when I say “shops and food stalls” I don’t mean stores and restaurants at the mall either, I’m talking about shops and food stalls from the set of a 70’s kung-fu movie.

There were people from all walks of life milling around, probably more workers and family of workers than professors and students. What surprised me the most were the chickens: the chickens were everywhere.

I loved every minute of the month I was there. I don’t remember any of my Chinese lessons though.

It all sounds like Spain’s recent (and recently-bursted) construction bubble, on a Chinese scale. A few months before the bubble burst, my hometown of some 30K people had enough housing for 60K: even accounting for enough “submerged economy” to be its own country, undocumented immigrants and second homes, having twice as much housing as people makes no sense - yet the developers kept developing. People were buying second and third homes, not to move, but to flip.

And yet the number is 2.3, with a decimal point. Does China use a unit of 10,000 for large numbers, like India does?

The character 万 there means 10,000, so “2.3万” means 23,000.