I have always been amazed by the enormous number of million+ cities in China. Well, since China has a billion+ inhabitants, it’s actually not that amazing at all. Still, the dazzling numbers are no less impressive to me. Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Shenzhen come into mind when you think of a Chinese metropolis. I am also (vaguely) familiar with cities like Guangzhou (12 million), Tianjin (8.2 million), Shenyang (5 million), Harbin (4.75 million) and Zhengzhou (4.4 million). But have you ever heard of Hefei? No? Me neither. Still it is a city larger than Madrid or Paris, with 4.6 million inhabitants. Or what about Wuhan? Doesn’t ring a bell? It’s about the size of London, with 6.6 million inhabitants and 10 million when you count the “suburbs”. Dongguan? Anyone? 7 million people, almost the size of New York City. And the list goes on and on.
Maybe it’s my ignorance, but I’m guessing that most of you are also not familiar with these cities. And even if you ever picked up their names, I’m pretty sure you can’t name me one characteristic, historical fact or architectural highlight from any of them. With any European, American or even Asian capital of comparable size that would probably be a lot easier.
Now, what is the point to this ridiculously long intro? I came across a very interesting documentary about the housing market in China. It turns out that in many of the 160 Chinese cities that house over a million people there are a huge number of empty houses and appartments. There are approximately 64 million empty homes in China! There is a city called Ordos, which was built in 5 years and can hold up to a million people. It stands virtually empty today. In the documentary they even visit a city which was built for 12 million (!) people, of which 70% remains empty. Because the Chinese government wants to keep the GDP above 8 percent they have to keep building and building new cities, without anybody every occupying them. We’re talking about a property bubble the size of the Hindenburg. Makes you wonder if China is really the investment opportunity it is generally considered to be these days. Investing in China, especially in real estate, could backfire on you big time. Check out “China’s Ghost Cities And Malls”:
Here are some satellite images of China’s ghost towns.
And here‘s another interesting report by Al Jazeera on the topic.