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From the South China Morning Post:

Unlike ghost towns in the West which are laid waste by wars, natural disasters, disease or failed economies, the ones in China are created out of haphazard and rushed projects by local governments attempting to boost GDP growth and reach urbanisation targets. …

As of last year, 16 mega-projects, each with more than 1 million square metres of total saleable area, had been built or were under construction in … Guiyang, the capital city of China’s Guizhou province. Together, they provide enough housing for more than one fourth of the city’s existing population.

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The mega-housing project of Huaguoyuan in Guiyang.

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Housing revenue is a key pillar of China’s economy. The latest data from the national statistics bureau show that nearly 12 per cent of China’s GDP in 2014 came from new home sales, a similar level as the previous year.

This is higher than mature markets like the US, which maintains a ratio of 10 per cent, according to brokerage CLSA’s property research. Even Hong Kong, where property is a key wealth investment, housing contributed 8 to 9 per cent to the economy at its peak between 1997 and 1998, right before the property bubble burst.

But as much as local governments want to profit from vast land, there are many failed “new towns” in China’s third-tier cities, a classification that includes 74 small-and-medium sized cities with relatively robust economies, as there often aren’t enough jobs or opportunities to attract a sustainable inflow of migrants. …

Overzealous urbanisation has raised speculation that the list of ghost towns will continue to grow, as the central government reins in speculative buying and property prices. …

The South China Morning Post has compiled a ghost town map based on an experimental model …

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Ghost 3

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Some researchers, however, are cautious about labelling cities as ghost towns. The CRIC, a think tank that researches China’s property market, said in its 2013 ghost town report that it was unfair and irresponsible to label a city as such if one only looks at the short-term oversupply of housing.

In particular, the think tank dismissed gloomy predictions about Guiyang. It argued that the city would attract immigration from all over the province given that provincial capitals are usually given priority in terms of funding for social welfare, basic infrastructure and economic development.

Zhu Xiaodi, a former fellow at Harvard University’s Joint-Centre for Housing Studies, agrees with this assessment. …

“Overall, you need to be careful about the search for ghosts. People are too eager to find ghosts and are likely to label any place a ghost city,” he said.

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A farmer carrying a rake walks past replica of the Eiffel Tower at the Tianducheng development in Hangzhou

A farmer walks past a replica of the Eiffel Tower at the Tianducheng development in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province.