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An Australian Reporter Went Back To A Chinese Ghost City Two Years After His First Visit -- This Is What He Saw

China ghost cities

China’s ambitious urbanization plan has helped create many ghost cities.

Two years after visiting some of China’s most infamous ghost cities and malls, Australian reporter Adrian Brown revisited them for SBS Dateline to see if they had changed.

His tour of Tianducheng, the Paris replica that we reported on, the South China Mall, and Kangbashi in Ordos, China’s most famous ghost city, showed that they were still empty.

Tom Miller, a Chinese urbanization expert told Brown, it’s as though Chinese officials “basically draw a circle on a map and they build it, and then they expect people to go and move in.”

The “gamble” is that cities might be empty now, but they will be filled up later, an argument Stephen Roach has previously made.

While some argue that this is symptomatic of a massive property bubble in China, this really shows the presence on individual property bubbles across China.

Tianduncheng, a city intended to replicate Paris was Adrian Brown' first stop.

The city has a mix of Parisian town houses, a replica of the Eiffel Tower.

And an imitation of the fountains of Versailles.

The town was supposed to hold 10,000 people but it holds about 1,000.

But at the Champs-Élysées square of Tianducheng shops are empty and boarded up.

A local said even though there are more people in the city now, there aren't enough to support businesses.

The destination is popular among wedding photographers.

This local said people didn't care for the architecture, they just bought homes because they were cheap.

The South China Mall in Dongguan was next on Brown's agenda.

He found the mall abandoned and almost every store boarded up.

'Nothing has changed in the 2.5 years that I was last in the Great Mall of China,' said Brown.

In 2011 he spoke with a toy shop owner at The Great Mall of China.

At the time, the owner said sometimes three or four days passed before he made a sale.

Brown's visit in 2013 showed the store boarded up.

The local government has taken over the mall now and classified it as a National tourist attraction.

Billions of dollars are now being spent on a makeover that would include an 'apartment and villa complex.'

It's this 'build, build, build mentality' that has some people worried about a property bubble in China.

Brown also revisited China's most infamous ghost city of Kangbashi in Ordos.

Developers flocked here in the middle of a mining boom.

The city remains mostly empty.

Kangbashi was expected to hold more than a million residents.

But fewer than 70,000 people are reported to live there today.

Ordos was home the to Miss World competitions in 2012.

But the end of the mining boom stopped the influx of residents to Kangbashi.

Population pressures didn't emerge in Ordos so a lot of that construction has gone to waste, author Tom Miller told SBS Datline.

But Arnold thinks it is wrong to talk of one big property bubble in China.

'Imagine China as bubble wrap, some of those bubbles in it might burst,' Arnold said.

'In places like Beijing and Shanghai there's still massive demand for housing, and there isn't enough housing.'

Ironically, Kangbashi's lack of people is drawing in visitors.

But it's almost as though China is ignoring all these signs.

850 kilometers (approx. 530 miles) south of Ordos China is building another city 'from scratch.'

This is the Lanzhou New Area in China's Gansu province.

The project began two years ago when army engineers cut the tops off 700 mountains and filled in the valleys.

To build a 130,000 hectare (approx 321240 acres) metropolis, all of which is part of China's ambitious urbanization plan.

China wants to move more than 400 million people from the countryside to the city in the next 10 years.

Lanzhou New Area's deputy mayor Guo Zhiqiang said his city would not make the same mistakes as Ordos.

Local government officials arranged for Brown to meet with local farmers that were being displaced to make way for the new city.

None were willing to express any unhappiness around the officials.

Brown calls it 'social engineering on the grandest of scales.'

Real estate isn't the only unbalanced aspect of China.

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