A fifth of China’s homes are abandoned. Take a look inside China’s ‘ghost cities.’

These cities have practically everything they need to thrive — except for people.

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These cities have practically everything they need to thrive — except for people.
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David Gray/ Reuters

  • China has an astounding housing vacancy problem.
  • There are cities all over the country that are almost entirely unoccupied.
  • About 50 million apartments are abandoned across the country.

When you picture a ghost town, images of an abandoned town in the wild west probably come to mind.

In China, however, there are a surprising number of “ghost cities,” or modern developments that have failed to attract residents.

The Kangbashi District in Inner Mongolia, China, for example, is a city that has been in development for the past 14 years. The district is filled with residential skyscrapers, a modern museum and library, and schools – but it is dramatically underpopulated. Developers originally intended for a million residents, though they have since lowered the goal to 300,000.

Keep reading for an inside look at China’s ghost cities.


In the Yunnan Province, the Chenggong district of Kunming was filled with largely unoccupied residential skyscrapers until recently.

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Chenggong in 2015.
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Wong Campion/Reuters

The city’s development from farmland to urban center began in 2003.

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Chenggong in 2015.
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Wong Campion/ Reuters

Source: Go Kunming


However, by 2012, the city’s population had not grown to match the new infrastructure.

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Chenggong in 2015.
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Wong Campion/ Reuters

That year, over 100,000 newly built apartments sat vacant in Chenggong.

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Chenggong in 2016.
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Wong Campion/ Reuters

Source: BBC.


Chenggong, outlined in red, is located just outside Kunming, which is the capital of the Yunnan Province.

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Google Maps

The district was built to deal with the growing population of Kunming, which was home to 6.5 million people in 2012.

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Chenggong in 2016.
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Wong Campion/ Reuters

Source: BBC


High rise apartments and railroads were built, but the city failed to populate in its early years.

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Chenggong in 2016.
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Wong Campion/ Reuters

Not all ghost cities look the same, however. Tianducheng is a development in the Zhejiang Province that was built in 2007 as a replica of Paris, France.

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Tianducheng in 2007.
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Aly Song/ Reuters

The copycat city is complete with a model Eiffel Tower.

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Tianducheng in 2007.
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Aly Song/ Reuters

Although the city was designed to house at least 10,000 people, it was largely unoccupied by 2013.

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Tianducheng in 2007.
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Aly Song/ Reuters

The unique city’s population has grown tremendously since 2014, however, now boasting 30,000 residents.

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Tianducheng in 2013.
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Aly Song/ Reuters

Of course, it’s not impossible for a city to bounce back from abandonment.

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Chenggong in 2016.
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Brenda Goh/Reuters

While it wasn’t long ago that Chenggong was just a sea of half-finished skyscrapers …

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Chenggong in 2013.
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VCG/Getty Images

… some say the city has experienced a revitalization in recent years.

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A child near Yunnan University.
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VCG/Getty

Source: Go Kunming, Cathay Pacific magazine


According to Cathay Pacific magazine, several new university campuses have been built in the area to attract more residents, and the area could become more attractive as Kunming’s downtown becomes more overcrowded.

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Chenggong University.
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VCG/Getty Images

Source: Cathay Pacific magazine


The latest data from the China Household Finance Survey (CHFS) reports that the country has a 22.4% urban housing vacancy rate.

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Chenggong in 2013.
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VCG/Getty Images

Source: CHFS.


That means that there are approximately 50 million vacant apartments across China.

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Chenggong in 2013.
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VCG/Getty Images

Source: Bloomberg.


To compare, the same survey reported that the US had a housing vacancy rate of 2.5% in 2011.

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Robert Galbraith/ Reuters

But urbanization is ultimately causing the housing vacancy rate to drop.

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A pile of bike-shares in Kunming, Yunnan.
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Stringer/Reuters

Source: CFHS.


The CHFS reported that each 10% rise in the country’s urbanization rate will result in a 2.6% drop in the housing vacancy rate.

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Job-seekers at Yunnan Minzu University.
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VCG/Getty Images

Source: CHFS.


Unsurprisingly, there’s a dramatic financial burden that comes with the high housing vacancy rate in China.

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Chenggong in 2013.
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VCG/Getty Images

As of 2013, 4.2 trillion Yuan in bank mortgages were trapped in vacant housing.

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Chenggong in 2013.
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VCG/Getty Images

Source: CHFS.


The CHFS offers several reasons for China’s staggering housing vacancy rates.

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Dandong in 2016.
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Zhang Peng/LightRocket/Getty Images

The survey identified that households in the top 10% of highest income are in possession of the the largest percentage of vacant houses compared to other income groups.

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Shenzhen City in 2017.
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JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images

Source: CHFS.


In fact, the households in the top 10% are responsible for nearly 40% of the country’s vacant houses.

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Chenggong in 2013.
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VCG/Getty Images

Source: CHFS.


Single men, or “bachelors of marital age,” as the survey identifies them, are also in possession of more vacant houses than households without bachelors.

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Chenggong in 2013.
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VCG/Getty

Source: CHFS.


Almost 30% of households with at least one bachelor were in possession of a vacant home, according to the survey.

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Chenggong in 2013.
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VCG/Getty

That’s compared to 23.9% of households without a bachelor.

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Chenggong in 2013.
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VCG/Getty

Chenggong is just one of China’s many satellite cities that were built quickly to serve the overflow from already developed neighboring cities.

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Chenggong in 2013.
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VCG/Getty

In addition to sizable apartment complexes, developers have also incorporated everything from sports complexes to luxury office buildings in an attempt to attract residents.

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Chenggong in 2013.
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VCG/Getty

This new office building, for example, is now home Yunnan Provincial Administration of Radio, Film, and Television.

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Chenggong in 2013.
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VCG/Getty

This neighborhood in the city of Tianjin was built as a financial center.

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Tianjin in 2016.
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Jason Lee/ Reuters

During an economic boom in 2012, buildings sprung up all over the city.

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Tianjin in 2016.
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Jason Lee/ Reuters

However, the costly infrastructure ultimately led to a construction standstill, leaving unfinished buildings and bridges.

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Tianjin in 2016.
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Jason Lee/ Reuters

There are now a cluster of abandoned skyscrapers on the outskirts of Tianjin.

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Tianjin in 2016.
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Jason Lee/ Reuters

Across the river from the business district, new residential skyscrapers are continuing to be built.

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Tianjin in 2012.
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Michael Martina/ Reuters

Kangbashi, located in the Inner Mongolia Province, is another one of China’s ghost districts.

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Kangbashi in 2011.
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David Gray/ Reuters

Kangbashi is located just outside the city of Ordos.

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Google Maps

The city of Ordos has been working on the development of the Kangbashi district for the past 14 years.

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Kangbashi in 2011.
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David Gray/ Reuters

Source: The Wall Street Journal.


Today, the city, despite offering new apartments, schools, libraries, and museums, is mostly unoccupied.

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Kangbashi in 2011.
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David Gray/ Reuters

There’s an architecturally beautiful, yet underused museum in Kangbashi…

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Kangbashi in 2011.
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David Gray/ Reuters

… as well as an impressive library…

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Kangbashi in 2011.
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David Gray/ Reuters

… and national monument.

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Kangbashi in 2011.
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David Gray/ Reuters

With all that infrastructure, the city initially expected a population of around a million people.

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Kangbashi in 2011.
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David Gray/ Reuters

But earlier this year, the city reduced the population goal to 300,000.

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Kangbashi in 2011.
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David Gray/ Reuters

Source: The Wall Street Journal.


Back in 2011, this billboard advertised new modern additions to the area that has become Kangbashi.

These cities have practically everything they need to thrive — except for people.

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Kangbashi in 2011.
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David Gray/ Reuters

Today, the city is fully built up, though with very few residents to use its resources.

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Kangbashi in 2011.
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David Gray/ Reuters

Some of the most striking elements of ghost cities like Kangbashi are the looming vacant skyscrapers and lack of traffic.

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Kangbashi in 2011.
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David Gray/ Reuters

And while some of these ambitious satellite cities gain sizable populations and lose their ghost city reputation over time, the future of many of these unique developments is still unknown.

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Kangbashi in 2011.
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David Gray/ Reuters

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