Ordos, The ghost city

(China, Inner Mongolia)


Ordos is a futuristic and ultra modern city located in China's Inner Mongolia region. Currently it can accommodate one million residents but to date, despite the efforts and incentives implemented by the Chinese government, only 30 thousand people live there. although the government swears the population reached 100 thousand units. In any case it is, virtually, a ghost town.

The story of Ordos started ten years ago, when the Chinese government began to build the city in the Ordos desert, investing a billion dollars. The most important Chinese architects were recruited to plan the city and to build monumental buildings. The reasons for that Pharaonic initiative were several. Inner Mongolia is China's richest region with the highest GDP, due to large gas resources, coal and rare earths mines. And in fact it was the discovery of one of the largest coal deposits in China, one sixth of the entire Chinese coal, to kick off the construction of this city. The city had to become the city of service to the mining companies for the exploitation of the huge deposits. The other reason is the great dream of the Chinese government to bring people from rural areas to the cities, to improve their quality of life. Not least financial speculation that swept China in the early twenty-first century, and that led the lenders to invest in construction, building also and especially where not needed.

In fact, Ordos is not an isolated case in China, dozens of neighborhoods and entire cities have grown in recent years from nothing due to the speculation, and they remain empty, creating a serious problem for the Chinese government. The crisis of coal began in 2012 with the collapse of its price, due to the simultaneous change in energy strategy dictated by the Chinese government. That means less energy from fossil fuels and more investments in renewable energy. Several coal companies closed and thus slowed down the exploitation of coal mines of this area. Besides, the great Chinese plan to transfer 500 million people from rural areas in all China to the big cities is definitely going slowly. Most people do not want to leave their lands, the place where they were born, even if they are lured by the sirens of a qualitatively better life. For those reasons Ordos is now an empty container. But the Chinese government ensures that the city was built for the future of China.

In fact, in March 2015, the State Council of China and the Central Committee of the Communist Party have submitted a report, the "new national plan of urbanization", announcing the government's intention to increase the proportion of people living in cities to 60 percent by 2020. To achieve this goal, China will need to bring 100 million new residents in the cities over the next five years. And Ordos is one of those cities. the estimated cost of the project is 6.8 trillion euros. And for that reason the Chinese government is undertaking several initiatives to attract people to live here in Ordos. The Chinese government assigned extremely low rents to an entire neighborhood, to house residents with low wages. Also it established some incentive packages to attract people from the countryside into the cities. But all that, for now, served little purpose, Ordos continues to be a ghost town. The few residents are mainly concentrated in the main part of the city, around the largest square of all of Asia, four kilometers long, submerged with massive statues of bronze, gold and silver that tell the story of Genghis Khan and the region. Around the square there are two shopping centers, the Jin Chen International Shopping Mall and Ordos Shuneng Shopping Mall. Five-storey, virtually empty, with very few shops and much less customers.


The only place in Ordos where there is life is around those streets, where the local people meet. A couple of kilometers of life, then the absolute vacuum. Especially in the evening the inhabitants gather at the end of the square, along the river Wulan Mulun that separates the city into two parts. Here the gigantic fountains, surrounded by dozens of bronze horses, spit water, at the rhythm of music and colours, an amazing show that happens every evening, to show that the city is a living city. All the architecture is inspired to evoke the greatness of Genghis Khan and the Mongolian people, and certainly succeeds, with monumental buildings but equally Kitsch. The city has been planned in minute details, from the huge roads to contain the probable increasing traffic flow, which for the moment does not exist, to the great cultural complex as the museum, the library, the theater, up to the arenas for sports. Everything was planned to achieve the best quality of life. Definitely, what was not planned was the difficulty of people to move here.

But those who live here are happy. Like Mr. Lin. He is holding his grandson and tells us: "The government gave me an apartment in this area, with a low rent. I have such a small pension that I could not pay a rent anywhere. Life is good here, there are few people, but the amenities are all there. The air is not polluted, the city is clean, everything is well maintained and cared for, there is no place where we would live better.” And in fact everything is maintained to perfection, most of the persons you can see around the town are the street sweepers who clean the city. And majority of the few inhabitants are the officials engaged in the city's public services, transport, offices, banks, everything working perfectly, everything paid by the Government, hoping to attract new residents.

Today the city looks like a surreal place made of pharaonic monuments, futuristic architecture, deserted streets and squares, and a multitude of never finished buildings. For now Ordos does not attract other residents, but surely tourists and curious people are starting to visit the streets and the empty squares of the city, attracted by the fame gained by the city in recent years: “the China's ghost town”.