The world’s largest shopping mall

Can you guess where it is?

You literally have to see it to believe it. This isn’t new; it came out four months ago, but I just saw it today. It drives home like nothing I’ve ever seen the difference between a ghost mall in the US (which is usually simply closed down and then leveled or left to deteriorate until it’s sold) and in China (where it can just keep on operating in what seems to be blissful disregard of reality).

Only one word keeps coming to mind as I watch it: sustainability. How long can places like this keep operating? How long can the charade continue? In most countries this wouldn’t go on past a few weeks or months. In China it could be years and years. But one thing seems certain: it can’t go on forever. Then again, this is China, and you just never know.

Watch the clip. It’s unforgettable.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 40 Comments

I quote from the website: ‘Being highly hailed by experts, scholars, authoritative media and the society, as an international commercial empire, South China Mall has demonstrated its elegancy and glory, and is bound to be a miracle of commercial history’.

And, apparently the teletubbies have become its allies!

http://www.southchinamall.com.cn/english/business/plane.jsp?catid=95,109,117

December 23, 2009 @ 6:17 pm | Comment

Hey, I enjoy my mall life!

Wow.

December 23, 2009 @ 6:30 pm | Comment

Oh, I simply MUST quote the rest of the page Nell has linked to:

Based on highlighted characteristic theme integrating tourism, culture, shopping, diversion, amusement, sports, food and hotel, South China Mall has seven characteristic theme zones by taking water course as main line with sunny and zealous South California Coast and San Francisco, clear and enchanting Amsterdam, elegant and romantic Chomps-Elysees Ave in Paris, mysterious and passionate Venice, sensational and beautiful Caribbean coast and adventurous Tropical Rain Forest. Such zones display the world’s famous water scenes and create relax and romantic shopping and living environment: you can enjoy yourself and have delicious foods while shopping and also enjoy cultural communication and body-building while in diversion. In terms of humanistic concern, it allows you to enjoy anywhere and delivers to you the higher spiritual enjoyment besides the creature comfort.

December 23, 2009 @ 6:33 pm | Comment

I mean, I live in sunny and zealous South California Coast! Thankfully no recent Teletubby sightings.

December 23, 2009 @ 6:34 pm | Comment

Lisa – I do wonder if this is the work of the mall consultant (as featured in the film) If so, its money well spent!

December 23, 2009 @ 7:10 pm | Comment

[...] The world’s largest shopping mall [...]

December 23, 2009 @ 7:10 pm | Pingback

While I do think planning for this mall is poorly executed, I do think the reason why this is not torn down is probably because the land has to returned to the government. It reminds me of where my uncle lives in his hometown where many oversized homes are built half finished. If they don’t build it, they can’t ‘claim’ the land. If the central government has to make use of the land where that building sit, the owners can sell it off for a profit. If he decides to tear the building down, it will cost him money and the land automatically returns back to the government.

December 23, 2009 @ 8:50 pm | Comment

On the south shore suburbia of Montreal (the city itself is an island), there has been a huge mall/new town development in the past few years on what were just empty fields. It sprang out of nowhere into a bonafide disposable landscape of big box stores, fake “village street” mall strips, giant parking lots and big box homes. It has a strong stench of unsustainability to it. It’s size, quasi-instant appearance and gobbling up of what was likely arable land reminds me of China all the time. I guess the difference is that this place is also extremely popular and packed to the gills.

But sooner or later, China’s penchant for immense and questionable construction projects is going to run headlong into arable land area considerations. Then it gets messy.

December 24, 2009 @ 12:18 am | Comment

pug: While I do think planning for this mall is poorly executed

Understatement, don’t you think. I think “deranged” or “inexplicable” is more like it. Based on what you say, I can understand if he doesn’t tear it down. But that doesn’t explain why they are still operating a deserted mall and carrying on the rituals with the staff as though it were a real functioning mall.

Neil, “a miracle of commercial history” indeed!

December 24, 2009 @ 12:25 am | Comment

Richard,

There’s a saying, use it or lose it. The land isn’t owned by the developer, but by the government. I’m sure if mall owner would shut down the mall, the government will simply take the land back.

December 24, 2009 @ 2:00 am | Comment

That is interesting. Could this also be an additional reason for this craziness?

December 24, 2009 @ 3:27 am | Comment

It’s funny, these threads are still being spammed by the same troll who fails to see the most simple distinction: the malls in the US he is screaming about are closed. They are not pretending to be real, active malls with living customers. It’s one thing to build a mall and have it fail and close – Phoenix has its fair share of dead malls, mostly old malls from the 50s and 60s, made obsolete by newer malls that are thriving. What I’m trying to highlight is the phenomenon in China of building unbelievably expensive malls that then stand empty yet keep on going, with yet more luxury malls opening across the street. This one in Dongguanis a little different in that most of its stores are vacant and abandoned – but it is a perfect example of building a mall where none was needed, and continuing to pretend it’s a real mall, complete with flag raising ceremonies and mascots.

December 24, 2009 @ 7:41 am | Comment

Hey, it MUST be real if it has Teletubbies!

December 24, 2009 @ 7:46 am | Comment

Hah. Watching that mascot hooping around the huge deserted mall was especially depressing.

December 24, 2009 @ 7:53 am | Comment

“these threads are still being spammed by the same troll who fails to see the most simple distinction”

Never underestimate the power of denial

American Beauty (1999)

December 24, 2009 @ 8:29 am | Comment

hopping around a dead mall… thats his job.

*cring*

December 24, 2009 @ 9:47 am | Comment

elegant and romantic Chomps-Elysees Ave in Paris

LOL.

December 24, 2009 @ 12:44 pm | Comment

The cousin and neighbor of the Chinese people, the North Korean people, with whom the Chinese people share the same mentality, made the same stunt some years ago when they built the largest hotel in the world then, the Ryugyong Hotel, in an attempt to prove to the N. Korean people that their country and people were the best. However, it proves to be a mission impossible. The grand hotel remains unfinished and uninhabited for 16 years and turns into a phantom hotel.

The Chinese people and their leaders, driven by the same ideological motive, apparently can not learn the lesson from their cousin and made the same mistake in a much larger scale and built a ghost town.

December 24, 2009 @ 1:00 pm | Comment

just watched it now, and just, wow. that is so sad.

then again, i never understood the draw of “replicating” cities. i mean would anyone really go to a shopping mall because it looked like Paris? (i know i should be careful, vegas proves me wrong, but still)

December 24, 2009 @ 1:01 pm | Comment

Richard,

It’s funny, these threads are still being spammed by the same troll who fails to see the most simple distinction:

I get it, because these ‘trolls’ don’t think like you do, flex your so called ‘intellectual superiority’ by saying I’m right you’re wrong.

December 24, 2009 @ 7:54 pm | Comment

No, pug – this troll’s comments are filled with violent personal insults, foul obscenities and insane hate. Ask Lisa – I’ve forwarded them to her. If I wanted to do what you claim – “flex your so called ‘intellectual superiority’ by saying I’m right you’re wrong” – I would never run your comments. We always disagree. There is a difference between trolling and disagreeing.

That comment of yours was quite inappropriate.

December 25, 2009 @ 1:00 am | Comment

Richard,

Sorry about that. Thought you were referring to me.

December 25, 2009 @ 1:57 am | Comment

America also has empty shopping malls, same thing.

Also, it is not pointless – important to keep up employment rate and pay people salary, instead of laying them off like Americca would do.

December 25, 2009 @ 3:35 am | Comment

Oh, lord, Pug, no, not you. This guy is foaming at the mouth insane. Profanity-filled, hateful, and more to the point, completely off-topic. The sort of fellow comment moderation was designed for…

December 25, 2009 @ 4:53 am | Comment

Great find, Richard. That video is disturbing.

December 25, 2009 @ 5:03 am | Comment

Lisa, the same delightful fellow is leaving an average of 30 to 40 comments a day, all instantly zapped. Some of them are quite evil.

Red Star, nice to see you here on Xmas Eve Day. There are certainly empty malls in America and dead malls that have closed. There is nothing even close to this story however – the very concept of this mall is so outlandish and bizarre as to defy all attempts at reason. There is no equivalent in the US and there never will be. This is a story that is without equal.

December 25, 2009 @ 6:30 am | Comment

Damn, like something out of a George A. Romero film.

December 26, 2009 @ 3:40 pm | Comment

Richard, have you seen this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ie7So1DoT0&feature=player_embedded
thoughts? looks like Chinese security was trying to shut out American press at Copenhagen?

December 26, 2009 @ 6:12 pm | Comment

But sooner or later, China’s penchant for immense and questionable construction projects is going to run headlong into arable land area considerations. Then it gets messy.

This mall was created by a private developer.

What I’m trying to highlight is the phenomenon in China of building unbelievably expensive malls that then stand empty yet keep on going

Yes because a single instance is a “phenomenon”. You’re going to have to source that. Various American wet dreams of a “China collapse”, if it will happen, will not be because of South China Mall.

December 27, 2009 @ 6:08 am | Comment

looks like Chinese security was trying to shut out American press at Copenhagen?

At least someone is taking a stand against America’s multi-trillion international propaganda apparatus. Who knows, they might have prevented a repeat of the Iraq War.

December 27, 2009 @ 6:09 am | Comment

And instead of working in South China Mall, would you prefer it if all of these migrant workers were laid-off en masse, Richard?

China actually has the financial position to pay for this. Many have said that China’s currency surplus is depriving the population of its own money- that surplus provides them with the leverage to keep a few thousand employed with generally low wages.

We can’t, however, say the same for California.

December 27, 2009 @ 6:25 am | Comment

This mall was created by a private developer.

It was conceived by a private developer, a local fellow. But did you watch the clip? “A government-owned investor stepped in and is determined to do whatever is necessary to make the place work.” It’s at least partly in the government’s hands now.

Yes because a single instance is a “phenomenon”. You’re going to have to source that. Various American wet dreams of a “China collapse”, if it will happen, will not be because of South China Mall.

Ferin, watch your mouth. Here is my source – read every line. I names specific malls that meet these criteria. This is just the latest example, though it’s in a somewhat different category – the other malls have tenants, but few customers. And they keep on going and going, with staff going to huge lengths to appear busy.

China isn’t going to collapse, and I never said it would. Its property bubble will, and seems to be in the process of deteriorating right now. No one here wants China to fail – that is your wet dream: the image of “anti-Chinese” Americans who fulfill all your stereotypes of the American you were taught to hate. It’s you, Ferin. You are simply projecting, bringing up the collapse of China because it fits your picture of what “anti-China” Americans are. Well, you’re wrong and you’re an idiot.

December 27, 2009 @ 6:30 am | Comment

I believe I’ve already suggested therapy.

December 27, 2009 @ 10:03 am | Comment

Seriously, this place would make a great location for a zombie movie, call it a tripped-out combo of Dawn of the Dead</i. and The Omega Man mixed with the production ethics of a 1980′s Hong Kong gangster movie – it would be epic!

Just bring John Woo in as the director and cast Tony Leung, Chow Yun Fat and Jay Chou as a group of trigger-happy Chengguan hiding out whilst the world outside gets taken over by the living dead. Of course, CCTV and Xinhua.net stay in operation broadcasting the good news whilst discussion on the internet varies from complete denial that the apocalypse is in progress to blaming the whole thing on a secret conspiracy involving the CIA, Tibet House, the KMT, NKOTB and the RSPCA. After a while the horrifying revelation dawns on the heroic band that maybe THEY are the real zombies . . . .

Cue double-handed automatic-pistol firing and zombie-brain-splattering fun galore!

December 27, 2009 @ 8:49 pm | Comment

“looks like Chinese security was trying to shut out American press at Copenhagen?”

And everyone else, it seems. If it’s not scripted Chinese delegations always present with symptoms of apoplexy.

December 28, 2009 @ 12:41 am | Comment

One of the most depressing videos I’ve ever seen.

December 29, 2009 @ 11:06 am | Comment

On the South China Mall
It may be true that Dongguan is an unfamiliar name to most Westerners, but it certainly is not a humble village. One year ago Dongguan was getting a lot of press as the center of the Chinese export-toy industry and Wikipedia still lists it as having a population of over 6 million. Of course much of last year’s news related to the massive layoffs and factory closings in Dongguan and its quite possible that the population is significantly below the peak of 2007-2008.

Given that information, even when considering the fact that most Dongguan residents were factory workers that couldn’t possibly afford to shop there, the idea to build the mall, which was made years ago during the height of the Dongguan boom, probably wasn’t as insane as this article makes it out to be. One could make a case that the developer simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time with respect to the Global Economic Crisis.

That said, the decision to keep the mall open seems like a bit of wishful thinking by the new owner. Obviously the mall isn’t a profitable enterprise, but I’d be interested in knowing who is actually eating the losses, both Capex and Opex. For example, are the shopowners actually paying their rent, utilities and salaries (they don’t appear to be selling enough goods to cover these costs), or is the new owner subsidizing these shopowners to keep them from bailing out?

A key issue to keep in mind is that Opex issues are very different in China than the US. In particular even after all my visits to China I am still stunned by the fact that most Chinese shops utilize sales clerks in far-greater numbers than are actually needed in order to meet customer demand. If the mall is subsidizing the rent and utilities, then the shopowner only needs to sell a very small number of items to cover the salary of the sales clerk.

The laws of economics work in China, but not in the same way. If businessmen know that they can take risks with other people’s money and get bailed-out by the government if things go wrong, then there is no reason to change their behavior. So we may continue to see these malls for some time to come.

December 31, 2009 @ 11:23 pm | Comment

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/metro/2009-12/30/content_9246802.htm

Talking about Chinese Malls, one of them is coming here in the heartland in Milwaukee. Look out Pacific Mall in Toronto. I wonder if there’s a big Chinese or Asian population there…

January 1, 2010 @ 12:56 am | Comment

Did anyone say Dongguan was a village? It’s huge, but isolated. I wrote a memorable post about an event I saw there two years ago.

Phoenix actually has its own Chinese ghost mall – or at least a ghost shopping center. It’s called the Chinese Cultural Center and it opened to great fanfare a few years ago. Most of it is unrented storefront and office space. It’s always empty except for a couple of restaurants. A developer from the mainland opened it with help from the Chinese government so I expect it to just stay there, always empty. They have a huge Chinese supermarket with all kinds of great stuff. When I went there a few weeks ago there were four customers there,

January 1, 2010 @ 1:12 am | Comment

[...] Video über den größte Shoppingmall der Welt, natürlich in Dongguan Tweet This Post posted under Literatur rund um China [...]

February 21, 2010 @ 7:43 am | Pingback

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