Posts Tagged ‘ghost cities’

Re-reading a few pieces (like this one and especially this for a more nuanced take) on China’s “ghost cities” called to mind some things I’ve read over the last number of years and, consequently, a few questions. It’s no secret that there are concerns about bubbles in China’s commercial, residential, and state infrastructure sectors. Google “ghost cities,” “China hard landing,” “China economic crisis,” or any of a hundred other similar terms and you’ll find unlimited prognosticators (both informed and not) predicting ten of the last two crashes of the Chinese economy. The general concerns are valid, of course, but I’ve long wondered to what extent the visual spectacle (see photos below or click here) of urban construction affects everyday observers ability to predict the future prospects of current developments (new neighborhoods, districts, railway stations), not to mention analysts’ ability to objectively read the underlying indicators.


In my own experience of radical (re)construction and urbanization in Shijiazhuang (Hebei), what appears ghostly often becomes corporeal in short order. And to clarify that terrible metaphor, what were empty housing projects one year are sometimes filled to the brim the next. Of course my take on this is also tainted by another form of spectacle, so I’m not sure the fact of rapid occupation of neighborhoods I happen to come across indicates good anymore than the countries most famous ghost towns prove bad. If you have the time, Hessler’s Driving China is a compelling if impressionistic take on reading the spectacle of an earlier infrastructure boom.


Whatever the truth (and I will be sure to let you know what it is many years after it has become obvious), it will be interesting to see what consequences China’s bubble – should it prove to be real and eventually burst – has in terms of capital growth, accumulation, and distribution. I’m particularly interested in the fate of the rural population as it is dispossessed of a long cherished birth-rite – that small piece of land that has served as a place of refuge over the past thirty years as these people have slowly made their way into the new urban China. To be sure many are purchasing (i.e., leasing long term) a new, though much more limited birth-rite in the form of a much more limited and likely better appointed apartment in the city. But where will they go in the event that a burst bubble takes even that away?


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