China’s deserted fake Disneyland

December 12, 2011

By David Gray

Along the road to one of China’s most famous tourist landmarks – the Great Wall of China – sits what could potentially have been another such tourist destination, but now stands as an example of modern-day China and the problems facing it.

Situated on an area of around 100 acres, and 45 minutes drive from the center of Beijing, are the ruins of ‘Wonderland’. Construction stopped more than a decade ago, with developers promoting it as ‘the largest amusement park in Asia’. Funds were withdrawn due to disagreements over property prices with the local government and farmers. So what is left are the skeletal remains of a palace, a castle, and the steel beams of what could have been an indoor playground in the middle of a corn field.

Pulling off the expressway and into the car park, I expected to be stopped by the usual confrontational security guards. But there was absolutely no one to be seen. I walked through one of the few entrances not boarded up, and instantly started coughing. In front of me were large empty rooms and discarded furniture, all covered in a thick layer of dust, along with an eerie silence that gave the place a haunted feeling – an emotion not normally associated with a children’s playground.

Once outside again, I came across some farmers who originally owned the land and are now using it to once again to grow their crops. Their tracks and plantations can be seen running through and surrounding the uncompleted buildings. Walking further, I came across a rather farcical sight of some farmers digging a well next to a castle; a moment I will always savor as a photographer in a place like China where castles are not in huge supply. I explained this to the farmers and they just shrugged their shoulders, oblivious to a photographer’s happiness. I asked them what happened, and they simply answered the developers ran out of money, and they are getting back to doing what they do best. They are even slowly starting to plant trees and build shelters near the buildings, adding they think it is now safe to think the developers are never coming back. This I can believe, as the absence of any security (something very rare in China) leads one to think that even the developers have given up on what is already there.

All these structures of rusting steel and decaying cement, are another sad example of property development in China involving wasted money, wasted resources and the uprooting of farmers and their families. It is a reflection of the country’s property market which many analysts say the government must keep tightening steps in place. The worry is a massive increase in inflation and a speculative bubble that might burst, considering that property sales contribute to around 10 percent of China’s growth.

43 comments

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To read this on the same day as hearing an NPR story about highway construction in China stalled because the workers haven’t been paid in months makes me almost as worried about China’s economy as I’ve been for months about the rest of the world’s…sigh…

Posted by DortchOnIT | Report as abusive

Eerie. Strangely fascinating.

Posted by ExiledStar | Report as abusive

Great piece. I saw this place from the highway while on my way to the Great Wall earlier this year in February. I was curious about it then. I assumed it was still under construction and had no idea it had been sitting idle for a decade. I wish I had done a story on it myself then!

Posted by Inside_China | Report as abusive

Hopefully some curious film director will use such places like this one, or like China’s ghost cities!
I bet the movies in such places have great potential

Posted by Radek.kow1 | Report as abusive

Living in China for over three now…you should see other areas of mass produced, empty buildings. Growth without parameters and law means China will have to recon with the outcome.

Posted by leebiglee77 | Report as abusive

The farmers want too much. The local officials demand bribery. The Government ask taxes. The Investors are gone. Time to bring Disney in.

Posted by JoeGI50 | Report as abusive

Great photos, nice writeup too. Interesting how other countries can be obsessed with replicating American kitsch instead of offering up their own version.

Posted by Nullcorp | Report as abusive

Disneyland – an American fantasy amusement park – what were these people thinking? The land of the great wall, the ceramic army, Lao tzu – they need this?

Posted by raskalnikoff | Report as abusive

This is so interesting to see. I just finished Charles Sailor’s book The Man Who Rode the Tiger on Kindle and am now quite fascinated with China. The picture of the farmers digging a well was amazing to see. In America I can not even imagine digging a well. If I turned on my faucet and the water did not come out, I would have no clue as to what to do. However, as the book taught me about 80% of China lives in poverty.

-R

Posted by Txtade | Report as abusive

I’m not amazing on that scene in China,because the official of China always boast about everything.In my opinion,the prospect of Chinese economic is poor!

Posted by weaponeer | Report as abusive

Mikey and Mini are hugely popular in China, Disney Land should do a deal, there’s a fortune to be had if this could be made to go.

Posted by Tiu | Report as abusive

“now stands as an example of modern-day China and the problems facing it”

So it is not systemic.

“I expected to be stopped by the usual confrontational security guards”

Any different if you resist security guards in the US?

Posted by greenacres | Report as abusive

I can understand this. It would be a typical result in a country that is growing too quickly without proper controls. We imagine China to be locked-down tight but it’s not locked-down in the right places to manage this rapid development. I see China as a cross between the old Communist system and the new emerging entrepreneurial one. In America and most of Europe, we know what will inevitably happen when business is released to do as it pleases without controls. China will learn this eventually.

Posted by greenleeb | Report as abusive

I don’t think Disney has exclusive rights over the renaissance castle and village architecture..we’d have to at least look at the characters and other goods and services before we could make such a conclusion that it were in fact a “fake Disneyland”.

Hey, they got over a mile of concrete pillars in BKK just next to the elevated tollway, but I don’t see that in Reuters billed as a “fake DMT”, though it more suits the analysis at this point.

Posted by adamt78 | Report as abusive

Europe, Japan, China…the U.S., there is a systemic illness throughout these artificially fabricated economies, all brought about by governments and central banks which assume they can control and manage that which they don’t even understand apparently. They have their models, their econometrics and think they can twist economic law to suit their political needs, they think they can measure that which cannot be measured and from that make their educated guesses, they have their experts who have provided the seeds for their own destruction.

Get you ammo ready folks, don’t forget your food stock…

Posted by Republicae | Report as abusive

Indeed,disneyland can’t duplicated,the Chinese government can’t twist anything.

Posted by weaponeer | Report as abusive

China is a hollow dragon – the same as seen in any parade. Sure there is some wealth – those who are well connected have convinced the average worker to pay 30 times their annual wage for a small condo. And the foreign nationals have given the farmer-migrant workers factory jobs located far away from their families. The most sucessful Chinese companies are wholly owned by the Chinese government. There is no banking capital available to small business. The internet is tighly regulated for content and speech. The environment is polluted beyond any compare. There is no social safety net. Ethnic differences are kept in bounds by the police and the military. Corruption and Red Bags are the norm. China’s foreign policy is strictly resource development. So ….. what’s so great about China. China is no super power and it won’t be a super power without complete structural reform.

Posted by GrayCo | Report as abusive

On the eastern side of the SouthEast 4th Ring Road there is another amusement park that looks completed but never seems to be open. Don’t know if it has been abandoned or not, but I’ve never seen any of the rides actually functioning. Also, in between Guamao and Dawanglu, in the CDB, construction on what was supposed to be the new tallest building in China seems to have ground to complete halt. I walk by it everyday on the way to work, and nothing seems to have changed since summertime.

Posted by mfw13 | Report as abusive

while there’s no exclusivity over ‘renaissance castle and village architecture’, it’s pretty Disney-esque, and clearly looking to offer a simulated experience of Disney. While IP protection is as wild as ever here, it’s comforting to know that you can’t just rip off the concept and style of something without fear of reprisal.
That said, there’s an “Aosta’s” coffee shop in Lujiazui (Shanghai) that copies the logo and typeface of Costa’s… perhaps a case of things being okay provided that you stay under the radar?

Posted by DanielSmith | Report as abusive

So “construction stopped more than a decade ago”, due to “disagreements over property prices with the local government and farmers”?

Um…that’s not really “an example of modern-day China” & an “increase in inflation and a speculative bubble that might burst”.

Posted by DanielTan | Report as abusive

While I agree with some of the arguments about corruption, this story hardly reflects an overbuilding disaster. Disney was allowed to market family packages directly on the mainland to Hong Kong about 10 years ago and that was also the time they got permission to build another giant park in Shanghai.

When you build a business plan around a captive audience at the $50/ticket level and the rules change you close shop. As in most countries, themed parks consolidate around brands and smaller adrenalin parks fill in the gap at a lower price point.

Its obvious today, that no-one would spend money to go to a flat plain near Bejing of a Disney knock-off (which is frozen half the year) when they can now do the real deal in balmy Shanghai or tropical Hong Kong.

Posted by John2244 | Report as abusive

Incredible to see how the farmers are making use of this land, quite amazing. It looks quite scary and eerie overall.
Dave, you always provide unique insight into many different aspects of life and landscape in China. Well done for always providing consistently interesting photos, with a great story to compliment them. Good for us followers to join your journey vicariously.

Posted by JosieAdams | Report as abusive

Today’s, Rueter’s ‘shorting China’ story it turns out is a decade old. Multiple deserted theme parks litter the landscape of Florida. My favorite was Marco Polo Park, on I-95, at Old Dixie Highway. It’s now Plantation Bay, gated community. So is ALL development in China misguided? um, no. Is all road construction halted as suggested by a poster above? Ridiculous. Rueter’s continues to push this idea that China is going to crash. What is needed is factual reporting.

Posted by Kingsago | Report as abusive

I’m trying to get my brain around Chinese farmers owning their land,,,that sounds like an oxymoron for a formerly “communist” country.

If anyone is having a problem about property, I would think it would be Western investors and the requirement that the Chinese government have a major controlling stake in any investment there. Can you say “Disney”?

If China is about to have a real estate bubble go pop, we are all in for a load of trouble. Goldman-Sachs lost a load of money on bad Chinese investments at the Chinese Central Bank. Is this tune sounding familiar?

Posted by Bugboy321 | Report as abusive

Corruption, bribery,greed and bubbles… Sounds bullish for China.

Posted by notsofastfriend | Report as abusive

China will be one of the last shoes to drop and will smash the delicate high wire balancing act that the rest of the world is trying to pull off. Once China starts to pull back on buying commodities the world will crash and burn.

Harvey Vaughn
Local Surge Media
http://www.localsurgemedia.com

Posted by AustinSeo | Report as abusive

Great photographs interesting story, but not that surprising. An economy as big as China’s will have failures for one reason or another. The child in me is facinated by these pictures though.

We have many such eerie scenes here in Ireland created by our property boom. Maybe not as romantic as a faux castle, but just as scary. They’re called Ghost Estates and can be found in every County in Ireland. This, a result of our property bubble. Unfortunately some young couples have moved into these estates with no neighbours and unfinished roads and services.

Posted by JeanLapin | Report as abusive

This is the best detailed information on the world economy and possible results: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bretton_Woo ds_system

Posted by Ciati | Report as abusive

Nice piece! Some equally eerie pix from last year, over at http://asiaobscura.com/2011/04/another-a bandoned-beijing-amusement-park.html

Posted by Deemer | Report as abusive

I want to visit there take off on “It’s a Small World!”

Posted by positive696 | Report as abusive

A tragedy in any land is in this story. I wonder though if even Walt Disney could do what he did now in orange county. Would he be stalled by the oppressive government and Sierra club tactics?

Posted by 2lman | Report as abusive

Found the Wonderland on Maps: http://g.co/maps/m5gxt

Posted by riddl | Report as abusive

Cool, maybe I could afford a trip this Disneyland!

Posted by mitch52 | Report as abusive

Didn’t we see the same thing happen in Japan a while back?

Posted by studakota | Report as abusive

I wish upon a star that they could have finished the project. I guess they have no ‘Hope’ – send Obama, maybe he can give them a speech.

Posted by systemBuilder | Report as abusive

If we’re pointing to poor management of property development as a main cause here, then we’re truly missing the forest for the trees.

Just look at the photos. Does anyone really want to go to an amusement park that’s shrouded in a post-apocalyptic setting? I was in Beijing 3 years ago right before the Olympics. Even with the central party ordering the shutdown of manufacturing around the city to allow the smog to clear, I could barely breathe or see the tops of their amazing new buildings in the nasty haze. The condition seems to have gotten worst.

Heck, who would really want to live in such an environment, much less pay such exorbitant prices on non-cashflowing properties? Only in Beijing where the nouveau riche have few options to park their strip-mined fortunes. And that’s what it’s all about in China — strip-mining the hardworking people, the natural environment, and the truth for the sake of robust, placating growth. Once the manufactured economic miracle is over, who would stay in those ruined cities of still vacant buildings.

Posted by MichaelCheng | Report as abusive

This reminds me of an area on the way to Iguaçu Falls in the border region of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. There are several hotels that were started years ago… the concrete shell is there to prove it, however vegetation has grown in and around the clearly abandoned buildings. Eerie is a good word to describe both this situation and that one. A standing testament to poor planning. Kind of sad. Beautiful photos… very telling!

Posted by MyWhiteDoves | Report as abusive

It does kind of look like the Contact Theatre in Manchester England. Weather’s pretty similar too.

Posted by Matthewtuckey | Report as abusive

Fascinating!

Posted by UrbexSociety | Report as abusive

I wouldn’t blow this one failed development out of proportion. They are currently on track building the Shanghai Disneyworld scheduled to open in 2014 which has had a total investment of CNY 24.5 Billion – around 3.9 billion US dollars and which will be almost twice as large as the one in LA.

Posted by lbaris | Report as abusive

It’s great to see the land being worked and not wasted. Gardening is a healthy and satisfying pursuit. I took my children to Disney in California (35 years ago). There was endless queuing for rides that were over in seconds and oh boy, did it rain. Globalisation is spreading peace and plenty all over our planet but we don’t need to overdose on cultural imperialism. Shanghai will do fine. My children took their children to Disney in Paris!

Posted by VeronicaSteele | Report as abusive

Great article , the worst is China owns the US and they have a balanced budget.

Posted by Mano_africa | Report as abusive

These pictures are fascinating. The juxtaposition of the whimsical buildings and the decayed environment is wild. Kudos to the photographer. Michael, TastyPlacement.com

Posted by TastyPlacement | Report as abusive