China’s Ghost Towns: The Empty Promises of Inflated Growth

Approximately 10 new cities are built in China every year. These pop-up metropolises include looping miles of highways, vast apartment blocks, sprawling cultural plazas, commercial districts, and shopping centers that are bigger than downtown Reno, Nevada. The only thing missing is people.

This 15-minute report from Australia’s SBS Dateline series begins its exploration of China’s new order of ghost towns in the silent city of Zheng Zhou. The empty urban vista, deserted and eerie on a Thursday at 11 a.m., is a monument to the Chinese government’s addiction to economic growth.

Massive building projects are a sure method of spurring GDP, but as analyst Gillem Tulloch points out: “It’s not the quantity of GDP that matters, it’s the quality of GDP.  Essentially, they’re just building stuff for which there is no demand.”

Demand, perhaps not, but a wish certainly exists. Like people everywhere, millions of Chinese yearn to own a home. It’s not lack of structures that defers the dream.

While an estimated 64 million apartments are empty in China, SBS Dateline reporters managed to find 20 Chinese sharing a communal sink and toilet in Beijing. A nearby two-bedroom apartment houses 10 people, including a married couple. A husband and wife are lucky to pool a $900 monthly income in China. They can hardly afford to fantasize about accumulating the 50 percent down payment (on $350,000) required to own a few rooms in a ghost complex.

A Chinese social scientist worries: “Poor people may come out and start a revolution.”

Western analysts agree: When the bubble bursts, “it increases the chances that you’ll get some form of social unrest.”

From our friends at, who cover the culture and lifestyle of change.TS