April 03, 2014

Zhengzhou - China's Largest Ghost City

With their empty streets and their deserted buildings, ghost towns have always fascinated me . Desolate and decaying constructs leave a physical reminder of glory days that have been swept away by the winds of destiny, disuse, and destruction. Living in Asia provides access to a particular phenomena - that of modern day ghost towns built in anticipation of a demand that may or may not materialize.

Some are worthy experiments in city building while others are entertaining combinations of vanity project and investor folly. China is in the lead with Ordos and Zhengzhou, followed by South Korea's Songdo. India has contributed deserted Lavassa, a holiday resort within driving distance of Mumbai and Pune but with around 0.01% of their population density.

As one of the eight ancient capitals of China, Zhengzhou itself has a long history. Recent archaeological excavations have revealed that it was the first city of the Shang dynasty around 3500 years ago. After visiting several heads of states, my friend Swathish and I made our way to the outskirts of the capital of Henan to visit the Middle Kingdom's largest ghost city - Zhengzhou New District.

Although Zhenghou's urban population base is nearing 9 million, not many of its inhabitants had made it to the New District. Swathish and I wandered through the deserted boulevards undisturbed. 'Caution for tumbling' warned a sign beside a staircase in front of an empty convention center and museum complex. Although mostly unused and uninhabited, the office towers, apartment complexes, and civic spaces showed heavy investment.

Rent is supposedly excessive even though tenants are hard to come by. One area is named Vancouver Square. The ghost cities are a testament to a future that is desired by the powers that be, but not one that is necessarily a reflection on the present day capabilities or desires of the populace.

Unlike Ordos, which is a lengthy highway drive away from its older namesake, new Zhengzhou is a modern, well-planned continuation of inhabited Zhenghzhou, so there is a greater likelihood that it will soon transform into a functioning community.

Apart from the short term gains that are generated by a resource and manpower intensive project like building a city from scratch, the grand vision of Zhengzhou New Distract may yet become a reality as migrants and businesses slowly trickle into a settlement where the infrastructure is already in place to handle an increasingly urban and affluent population.


Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities. ~ Mark Twain