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China’s Phantom Urbanization And The Pathology Of Ghost Cities

China's Phantom Urbanization And The Pathology Of Ghost Cities

University of Texas at Austin

Northwestern University - Department of Political Science

January 29, 2015

Journal of Contemporary Asia, Forthcoming


Many have remarked upon China's tendency to develop gargantuan, yet nearly empty, "ghost cities" since the turn of the millennium. Yet almost no previous scholarship examines the specific reasons why or processes through which this phenomenon has come to be. Following a thorough and critical analysis of key aspects of China's political economy that create the perverse incentives behind the excesses of its real estate boom and the growth of ghost cities, we examine two empirical case studies in detail: Kangbashi (in Ordos, Inner Mongolia) and New Beichuan (in an area of Sichuan Province devastated by a massive earthquake in 2008). We are thus able to offer both broad insights into the roots of China's phantom urbanization and a careful tracing of the specific development and effects of the pathology of ghost cities for the first time.

China's Phantom Urbanization And The Pathology Of Ghost Cities - Introduction

Today the tragedy of the Great Leap forward is repeating as the comedy of the rapid capitalist Great Leap Forward into modernization, with the old slogan ‘an iron foundry in every village’ reemerging as ‘a skyscraper on every street’ (Žižek 2011, 718).

Urban development since the mid-nineteenth century, if not before, has always been speculative, but the speculative scale of the Chinese development seems to be of an entirely different order than anything before in human history (Harvey 2013, 60).

The conventional wisdom regarding China’s urbanization...