Home Scandal and Gossip Google’s Satellite Images Reveal Chinese ‘Ghost Cities’

Google’s Satellite Images Reveal Chinese ‘Ghost Cities’

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Satellite images pulled from Google Maps showing empty Chinese ‘ghost-cities’ surfaced and went viral yesterday, capping months of allegations that there are allegedly over 64 million brand new vacant apartments in China, enough to house over 200 million people.

The almost post-apocalyptic images of excess property are said to be the result of Chinese government pressure to increase internal economic activity – and hence net GDP – by any possible means, even building entire cities even when it’s unnecessary.

Patrick Chovanec of Tsinghua University explained to English language Al-Jazeera TV: ‘Who wants to be the mayor who reports that he didn’t get 8% GDP growth this year? Nobody wants to come forward with that. So the incentives in the system are to build. And if that’s the easiest way to achieve that growth, then you build.’ What makes this apparently pointless expansion so appealing is that, as Chovanec also states: “Nobody’s ever really lost money on real estate in China.”

So, as Business Insider reported back in September, because “ [the Chinese] need to put their money somewhere, but the stock market is under pressure and bank interest doesn’t cover inflation…they plunk their money into a new property, just as a place to store their wealth, even if they don’t intend to live in the place and can’t find renters.” One interviewee in an Al Jazeera report attests to this as fact, stating that though he wants to move into Ordos, one of the cities in question, the cost would be so high that despite nearly the entire city being vacant he’s unable to afford it.


The result of this unnecessary expansion is that we have perhaps the first outposts of civilization that are impractical to the point of being unusable, as many of them have housing prices so high that even if there were people available to fill them, it would be impossible to do so – the money simply isn’t there, and ideally never will be. Otherwise the investments of an entire country’s wealthy would be utterly devalued (unless China someday controls so much of the world’s wealth the cost of living in these cities becomes affordable only for them).

At least for the time being this makes the issue into a much more abstract one. It begets a situation in which the particular housing market of these cities becomes less about want, need, or exchange value and more about investment banking. That is to say: these aren’t cities we’re looking at, but bank vaults wherein the houses have become abstract capital’s physical manifestation – as has been hinted, an apparition.

Which is, I suggest, a sign that in these images the physical commodities that structure civilization itself have become so imbricated with capital that they have become it outright: More precisely by looking at these cities we witness the absolute limit of both capitalism and civilization. Herein the physical (buildings, cities) and immaterial (capital), the objective and the abstract, reality and representation, have completely united, become indistinguishable – exactly as happens in the case of insanity.


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  • tom mcdaries

    The world population has doubled since 1960. China is planning for the future. They have also been building the greatest military the world will ever see, and buying up the worlds gold. The U.S. is ready to implode. Very soon China will call in our debt as will Japan.

    Ghost cities will fill up with population when they are ready. Does the U.S. plan ahead for anything? Our mentality is not oriented toward tomorrow, We’ve canceled the space program, ruined the military and bankrupted the country. Don’t laugh at China.

  • Pursuant to an article – Google’s Satellite Images Reveal Chinese ‘Ghost Cities’ we posted that drew world wide interest in whether in fact there were entire mass un occupied cities in inner west China that went on for miles and could theoretically house hundreds of millions of people we got this one particular response challenging us to assess in fact whether Ordos and similar supposed ghost cities were in fact deserted or not or just the trick of clever photography?

    So read on and make up your own minds- The Editor.

    Dear S&V Editor:

    https://scallywagandvagabond.com/2010/12/are-the-vacant-unoccupied-cites-of-inner-china-the-trick-of-clever-photographers/

  • ChasL

    Well, Chinese media just answered the Times article with same photo, except theirs have people in it:

    http://www.sina0477.com/2010/0511/article_127990_1.html

    Granted Inner Mongolia is one of the least populated area in China where sheep outnumber human, Ordos, known for it’s sweaters (made by people), is not a ghost town by any stretch of imagination.

    BTW a little trivia, Genghis Khan’s tomb is in Ordos.

  • Captian Obvious

    These cities will be death traps in a few years. Without maintanence even modern buildings degrade over time.

    I am just surprised that this money was not spent on aircraft carriers and a larger military. I guess China’s leaders are just as stupid with money as our leaders.

    I wish I could manage my money instead of the government doing it for me.

  • George Shreve

    Dear God. Please provide China with a crash …
    What is the ETA on this, God?
    God? Are you listening to me …
    Hello?

    (Sound of fizzle after a brief sizzle …
    Cut to Beijing, close in on Tiananmen Square, 1989.
    Man in front of a Tank cavalcade.

    Cut to Zhonghanhai, desk of Premier Li Peng.
    Super close up of Li Peng …
    He is smoking a cigar.
    Li Peng says: ‘We are going to be so … rich.’

    Cut to Wall Street, desk of Jim Chanos, 2011.
    Super close up of Jim Chanos …
    He is trying hard to hold off a smirk.
    Jim says: ‘Yes you are going to be so rich … not.’

  • ADP

    Steven, I am the author of this article and I did not read the FT piece at any point during my information gathering process. They are, and were, far from the only journal reporting on this.

    If you read the first paragraph it should be clear that I am addressing the situation as a whole, as there are many sites hosting these images, which anyone view simply by typing in something such as “Ordos, China” into Google Maps. And as far as I’m aware this is the first article to point out that these satellite images are available on Google; no one else I’d seen had been specific as to the source or taken the time to do a sustained analysis of the situation.

    I first saw this story on Business Insider some time ago and my sourcing reflects that.

  • Steven Devijver

    @Scallywag not good enough. FP wrote the article with the google maps images. These “2 media entities” as far as I can tell haven’t produced any coordinates.

    According to me you’ve copied FP’s scoop without sourcing it, making it look like it’s your scoop. That’s why it’s not good enough. But anyway, that’s just me and I realize I might be mistaken. Why don’t you enlighten us on how exactly you came about these coordinates? Surely it must have been a lot of work for you to gather all this.

  • Tim Wu

    Let’s see this city’s streetview.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0h7V3Twb-Qk&t=1m22s

  • asshat

    Linking to thumbnails should be illegal

  • Gcj

    This shows the Chinese central government is losing control over the state.

  • webjamm

    Are you kidding me? This just shows that they are making up work and commerce to make it look like things are booming in their economy. It is a farce and shows what fascism and communism lead to.

  • MGK

    Limit of capitalism? In a true capitalistic society, the investors would be able to park their money into unimproved real estate without the fear of it being seized by the government. I also understand that the majority of these cities are built with funds from the nationalized Chinese energy industry with the sole purpose of propping up GDP numbers. With private property rights, capitalism would work just fine. Without a central bank, the investors could keep their money in cash without the fear of it being inflated away. This is a result and limit of socialism, and socialism alone.

  • Nice cities with beautiful buildings, it’s such a shame that they are going to waste.

  • ChrisO

    IF I were a wealthy man such as this, I would much rather own physical property like that as opposed to the even more ridiculous situation in the US where the wealthy buy stocks. piece of paper that indicate you are worth X amount.

  • Steven- to our credit we have already sourced 2 media entities in our article. That said I do hope you find our nuanced take on this extreme behavior as beguiling as when we first heard about this incredible situation.

    Also do notice none of the mainstream American media came on board this story. I wonder why?

    The Editor.

  • Tim

    I was reading this post with unbelieving shock. I haven’t heard of these cities before and I am really glad that you come to the same conclusion as I do. This shows the boundaries of our current world system. It is a manifestation of its shortcomings. It is,insanity.
    Thank you for this post.

  • Steven Devijver

    As far as I can tell this story was first posted on financialpost.com on december 15th but somehow you failed to source it. Here goes:

    http://www.financialpost.com/news/ghost+cities+China/3982854/story.html

    Steven