An Eerie Video Tour of the World's Largest, Deadest Shopping Mall

Illustration for article titled An Eerie Video Tour of the Worlds Largest, Deadest Shopping Mall

South China Mall, built in Dongguan and more than twice as large as Minnesota's Mall of America, was completed in 2005. Today, it sits almost completely empty. It is, by any account, the world's largest ghost mall.

It's not hard to guess what happened here: many of China's overzealous building projects over the last decade—including hotels, amusement parks and near-overnight luxury home developments—were probably untenable even if the worldwide economic crisis hadn't happened. And since it did, they're truly, deeply, and completely screwed. PBS did what nobody in China seems to be doing, and actually went there:

Illustration for article titled An Eerie Video Tour of the Worlds Largest, Deadest Shopping Mall

There's still a sad little skeleton crew rolling around the premises in golf carts and a few businesses—mostly food chains, it seems—are up and runnng, but of the 1500 rentable spaces spread out over 7 million square feet, about 99% sit empty. And as if the endless shots of sparsely scored, post-apocalyptic retail ruins don't convey enough of a sense of despair and failure, here's the last news story posted on their English language website:

Located at Dongguan South China Mall, the first Teletubbies Edutaiment Centre will be open with a grand opening ceremony held on February 24, 2006. Representatives from BBC Worldwide、Ragdoll Limited, Impact Licensing Marking Management Consulting Co.,Ltd. will be attending the opening ceremony.

More than burnt hair, rotting flesh and formaldehyde, that, folks, is the smell of death. [PBS via Metafilter—Pic via]

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Many Chinese businessmen still lack some of the basic sophistication and knowledge necessary for projects such as this. I have an uncle who thinks he can run a polysilicon plant just because he runs a successful furniture factory selling to Walmart. Building a mall like this would work in a city such as Shanghai or even Shenzhen because the infrastructure and demographics are there to support it. But Dongguan is a factory town, populated mostly of migrant workers who just don't have the time or money to go "guang jie" in this mall. The only foreigners who come through Dongguan are the Taiwanese factory owners and their American and European clients, most of whom are interested in drinking and singing karaoke instead of shopping. Unfortunately, there are tons of projects JUST LIKE THIS all over China, maybe not malls, but villas, bridges, apartment buildings, where absolutely no forethought or basic, basic research was done to see whether these projects were feasible or not. The Chinese are the new nouveau riche, and many of them will go broke figuring out how to do things right. On the bright side, there will be some who get lucky, or learn a little faster. Even for American entrepreneurs, something like 1 out of 7 projects are busts. The Chinese will get it right eventually, and we'll stand around laughing at their failures, and marveling at their successes.