Review: China's ghost towns

Ghost Cities of China: The Story of Cities without People, in the World’s Most Populated Country, Wade Shepard, Zed Books, £14.99

The World Today
Published 1 April 2015 Updated 5 January 2021 2 minute READ

Deljana Iossifova

Formerly a practising architect and now a lecturer in Urban Studies, University of Manchester

In 2009, Melissa Chan, a journalist, introduced the world to an apparently new phenomenon in rapidly urbanizing China: ghost cities, or, in Wade Shepard’s more dramatic words, ‘the stillborn carcasses of cities that never knew life’.

Ghost cities are places that have everything a city needs, but lack the most important ingredient: people. Over the past years, reports on vast, monotonous urban developments in China, devoid of any sign of life, have made the news.

The West explained the appearance of ghost towns as one manifestation of China’s effort to fuel GDP growth: economists assume that a one per cent increase in urbanization rates can result in a 4 per cent rise in annual economic growth. Criticizing the scandalous waste of global resources, many questioned the sustainability of a development strategy that relies on the building of housing and shopping malls, where there is no apparent demand.

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