China’s Ghost Cities: Where to Find Them and How to Explore Them

In case you haven’t paid attention to the news in recent years, one of the things which has drawn a lot of criticism in China is that of China’s ghost cities. Huge urban developments, complete with metro systems, theatres, schools, and more, all left to crumble alone after having been put together by the government and then not finding a population to fill them. 

Having lived behind the Great Firewall of China ourselves, and reporting our stories with the help of VPNs for years, we know that it can be a country of surprises. Just because it’s seen one way in the media, doesn’t mean it actually is that way. Over the last couple of years, these once empty population center have gradually come to be filled with people. As more and more Chinese are looking to move to the cities, these younger, newer cities are drawing interest due to their low prices and proximity to other, larger cities. 

For those of you who want to confirm this information first hand – and catch a little bit of Chinese culture – here’s our guide to exploring China’s Ghost cities. 

Ordos City in Inner Mongolia

One of the largest ‘ghost cities’ was that of Ordos. Located in the Inner Mongolia area, Ordos was meant to be a new hub for culture and trade in the region. The Kangbashi area was meant to hold over one million people. Countless office buildings and towers were put together when the area was built, with enough work for more than the one million inhabitants which would reside here. Pictures from as recently as 2010 show the place all but deserted. 

However, in recent years the once empty city has started to fill with people. The theatres have become used and the stores opened for business. In the heart of the city, you’re able to visit statues of Genghis Khan, surrounded by people bustling through their everyday lives. The local Museum is also a great place to visit. The ‘blob-like’ architecture stands out as a particular point of interest. Combined with Ordos’ infamy amongst China’s ghost cities, exploring this one is worth it.  

Nanhui New City Near Shanghai

Located just 60 km from the bustling city of Shanghai, Nanhui New City was hailed as the new “Hong Kong’ during its development stage. Lots of people did actually invest in property here, with much of it being bought up as a way of obtaining secure(ish) investments. Unfortunately, those people didn’t proceed to move in. The lack of developed companies and businesses to work at just didn’t make it financially viable. 

However, seeing that the area was struggling to find residents who actually wanted to live there, developments were made in order to help over 10 university campuses develop within the area. Combine the vibrant up-and-coming student life in the city with the fact that it’s located along the coast, and you have a city which is quickly having life breathed into it. Pictures of the deserted city are now more than a little dated. 

Empty Cities In China

Dantu in Zhenjiang

Dantu was, for a long time, almost completely deserted. As one of the largest ‘ghost towns’ in China, the city was given a lot of attention by outside media. However, as of 2015, many businesses have moved in and the city has started to develop. Whilst still relatively sparse on the population size, it is no longer deserted

Make sure to visit the area’s Lanzhou noodle shops. It’s said that they have gotten lucky with those which have moved into the area. Interesting fact, wherever the Lanzhou noodle shops move into are usually the first places to find people moving in. Who knew? 

Houtouwan in the Shengshan Islands

Whilst not a large, commercial town erected by the Chinese government to house millions of people, Houtouwan is a ghost ‘town’. What was once a thriving home for many hundreds of people, has now become the residence of the island’s plant life. Everything, from houses to tables, to chairs, has been covered in vegetables and herbs.

This happened back in the early 1990s, when the area was filled with over 2,000 fishermen who left the area after there was not enough fish to catch. Replacing them, the island’s plant life moved in quickly and today the area is now a bit of a tourist attraction for those looking to see what a reclaimed town looks like. 

You’ll find the island of Houtouwan located just 40 miles off the coast of Shanghai, nestled in the Shengshan Islands. Simply take a short cruise from Shanghai and you’ll be there in no time. 

New South China Mall

OK, so this isn’t one of China’s ghost cities, but it is pretty ghostly (and large). The New South China Mall was designed to be the largest mall in the world – and it is – except that for a long time that space wasn’t actually filled with anything.

Located in Dongguan, Guangdong, the mall was 99% empty up until 2015. However, during that year CNN came back for a quick peek of what was going and found that the previously empty shopping center had turned into a bustling and thriving collection of high-end shops and restaurants. Yes, a fair amount of the mall is still vacant, but that’s not surprising considering the size of the place. Just give it a few more years and the mall will seem just like the mall down the road from you – except this one will be a lot bigger!

The Future of China’s Ghost Cities…

Gradually the ghost cities of China will continue to build themselves up and thrive. Yet as these cities thrive, you can expect new ones to pop up in their place. With a population of 1.3 billion, there are always people willing to pay money for a new apartment – even if that isn’t a relatively underdeveloped city. 

So, if you’re looking for places which haven’t quite been changed, then keep your eyes peeled for fresh reports. However, if you’re looking for a new city which is just starting to form its own culture and develop, then any one of the places above are perfect. Hey, you may even want to invest!

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Cez Krol
Cez Krol
I’m always positive and never bored – there’s just so much more to see and experience! I began my journey around the world in 2011 with just $400 and one-way ticket to Asia. Still going and blogging today. You can typically spot me working on a laptop or rock climbing.
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