A fifth of China's homes are abandoned. Take a look inside China's 'ghost cities.'

  • China has an astounding housing vacancy problem.
  • There are cities all over the country that are almost entirely unoccupied.
  • About 50 million apartments are abandoned across the country.

When you picture a ghost town, images of an abandoned town in the wild west probably come to mind.

In China, however, there are a surprising number of “ghost cities,” or modern developments that have failed to attract residents.

The Kangbashi District in Inner Mongolia, China, for example, is a city that has been in development for the past 14 years. The district is filled with residential skyscrapers, a modern museum and library, and schools – but it is dramatically underpopulated. Developers originally intended for a million residents, though they have since lowered the goal to 300,000.

Keep reading for an inside look at China’s ghost cities.

In the Yunnan Province, the Chenggong district of Kunming was filled with largely unoccupied residential skyscrapers until recently.

The city’s development from farmland to urban center began in 2003.

Source: Go Kunming

However, by 2012, the city’s population had not grown to match the new infrastructure.

That year, over 100,000 newly built apartments sat vacant in Chenggong.

Source: BBC.

Chenggong, outlined in red, is located just outside Kunming, which is the capital of the Yunnan Province.

Google Maps

The district was built to deal with the growing population of Kunming, which was home to 6.5 million people in 2012.

Source: BBC

High rise apartments and railroads were built, but the city failed to populate in its early years.

Not all ghost cities look the same, however. Tianducheng is a development in the Zhejiang Province that was built in 2007 as a replica of Paris, France.

The copycat city is complete with a model Eiffel Tower.

Although the city was designed to house at least 10,000 people, it was largely unoccupied by 2013.

The unique city’s population has grown tremendously since 2014, however, now boasting 30,000 residents.

Of course, it’s not impossible for a city to bounce back from abandonment.

While it wasn’t long ago that Chenggong was just a sea of half-finished skyscrapers …

VCG/Getty ImagesChenggong in 2013.

… some say the city has experienced a revitalization in recent years.

VCG/GettyA child near Yunnan University.

Source: Go Kunming, Cathay Pacific magazine

According to Cathay Pacific magazine, several new university campuses have been built in the area to attract more residents, and the area could become more attractive as Kunming’s downtown becomes more overcrowded.

VCG/Getty ImagesChenggong University.

Source: Cathay Pacific magazine

The latest data from the China Household Finance Survey (CHFS) reports that the country has a 22.4% urban housing vacancy rate.

VCG/Getty ImagesChenggong in 2013.

Source: CHFS.

That means that there are approximately 50 million vacant apartments across China.

VCG/Getty ImagesChenggong in 2013.

Source: Bloomberg.

To compare, the same survey reported that the US had a housing vacancy rate of 2.5% in 2011.

But urbanisation is ultimately causing the housing vacancy rate to drop.

Source: CFHS.

The CHFS reported that each 10% rise in the country’s urbanisation rate will result in a 2.6% drop in the housing vacancy rate.

VCG/Getty ImagesJob-seekers at Yunnan Minzu University.

Source: CHFS.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a dramatic financial burden that comes with the high housing vacancy rate in China.

VCG/Getty ImagesChenggong in 2013.

As of 2013, 4.2 trillion Yuan in bank mortgages were trapped in vacant housing.

VCG/Getty ImagesChenggong in 2013.

Source: CHFS.

The CHFS offers several reasons for China’s staggering housing vacancy rates.

Zhang Peng/LightRocket/Getty ImagesDandong in 2016.

The survey identified that households in the top 10% of highest income are in possession of the the largest percentage of vacant houses compared to other income groups.

JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty ImagesShenzhen City in 2017.

Source: CHFS.

In fact, the households in the top 10% are responsible for nearly 40% of the country’s vacant houses.

VCG/Getty ImagesChenggong in 2013.

Source: CHFS.

Single men, or “bachelors of marital age,” as the survey identifies them, are also in possession of more vacant houses than households without bachelors.

VCG/GettyChenggong in 2013.

Source: CHFS.

Almost 30% of households with at least one bachelor were in possession of a vacant home, according to the survey.

VCG/GettyChenggong in 2013.

That’s compared to 23.9% of households without a bachelor.

VCG/GettyChenggong in 2013.

Chenggong is just one of China’s many satellite cities that were built quickly to serve the overflow from already developed neighbouring cities.

VCG/GettyChenggong in 2013.

In addition to sizable apartment complexes, developers have also incorporated everything from sports complexes to luxury office buildings in an attempt to attract residents.

VCG/GettyChenggong in 2013.

This new office building, for example, is now home Yunnan Provincial Administration of Radio, Film, and Television.

VCG/GettyChenggong in 2013.

This neighbourhood in the city of Tianjin was built as a financial center.

During an economic boom in 2012, buildings sprung up all over the city.

However, the costly infrastructure ultimately led to a construction standstill, leaving unfinished buildings and bridges.

There are now a cluster of abandoned skyscrapers on the outskirts of Tianjin.

Across the river from the business district, new residential skyscrapers are continuing to be built.

Kangbashi, located in the Inner Mongolia Province, is another one of China’s ghost districts.

Kangbashi is located just outside the city of Ordos.

Google Maps

The city of Ordos has been working on the development of the Kangbashi district for the past 14 years.

Source: The Wall Street Journal.

Today, the city, despite offering new apartments, schools, libraries, and museums, is mostly unoccupied.

There’s an architecturally beautiful, yet underused museum in Kangbashi…

… as well as an impressive library…

… and national monument.

With all that infrastructure, the city initially expected a population of around a million people.

But earlier this year, the city reduced the population goal to 300,000.

Source: The Wall Street Journal.

Back in 2011, this billboard advertised new modern additions to the area that has become Kangbashi.

Today, the city is fully built up, though with very few residents to use its resources.

Some of the most striking elements of ghost cities like Kangbashi are the looming vacant skyscrapers and lack of traffic.

And while some of these ambitious satellite cities gain sizable populations and lose their ghost city reputation over time, the future of many of these unique developments is still unknown.

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