Monday, April 4, 2011
This really freaks me out (and it should freak you out too). Reporters from Australian TV show Dateline explore the empty streets of Dongguan to document the dark reality of China's real estate boom. Six years after its opening, the "New" South China Mall remains 99 percent vacant. Government development agencies raze single-story tenements to make way for high-rise apartments that few Chinese can afford. But construction continues.
Admittedly one of the reasons I find this tour of Dongguan so spooky is because of the visual parallels I draw to one of my favorite movies, Serenity. In the scene below, the crew of the Firefly discovers a secret the centralized Alliance government was determined to keep hidden. They stumble upon the planet Miranda and find it completely deserted, with no evidence of war, famine, or other catastrophe.
My favorite quote from this clip (besides "She is starting to damage my calm") is when Jayne says, "She's right. Everybody's dead. This whole world is dead for no reason." Now let me ask you something: Decomposing bodies and government population-calming experiments aside, is Dongguan any less "dead" than Miranda? Can a city exist without the people who inhabit it?
Not only are the views of an empty Dongguan (and the pop-culture references they suggest) unnerving in and of themselves, but the implications of all of that real estate sitting vacant for years is equally alarming. I'm not familiar enough with Chinese property development trends to say what this means for China's economy, but real estate analyst Gillem Tulloch asserts that it is experiencing a property bubble like we've never seen before, one "that will make the United States pale in comparison." We all know how that turned out, don't we?
Despite the warnings and the precedents, this type of development continues. In this Grist.org piece about the video, Sarah Goodyear writes: "And yet around the globe, governments and business interests continue to build projects like these.... They should look more closely at the Chinese example -- beyond the GDP numbers to the bricks-and-mortar reality. Because when economic growth is pursued for its own sake, without regard to the needs and capabilities of the humans inside that economy, it is only a matter of time before the bubble will burst."