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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

The emptiest mall in the world

Kaid Benfield

Posted March 30, 2012

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  New South China Mall (by: Remko Tanis, creative commons license)

In this space, I have written before about dead shopping malls, past their prime and doomed by a business model stuck in the late 20th century.  Although I am no fan of the architectural form or the way malls became de facto, mass-manufactured, neo-public spaces (while being vastly inferior to true public spaces) in American suburbs, there can be something profoundly sad when they fail.

  New South China Mall (by: Remko Tanis, creative commons license)

The giant mall you see in the photos here, though, didn’t die.  It has never lived, having been nothing but empty since it opened seven years ago.  According to its Wikipedia entry, it has an astounding 2,350 available retail spaces, only 47 of which are occupied.

  New South China Mall (by: Remko Tanis, creative commons license)

  New South China Mall (by: Jason Fung, creative commons license)

Meet the world’s largest shopping mall, the New South China Mall in Dongguan, China.  It is twice as big as the huge Mall of America outside Minneapolis.  Super-talented photographer Matthew Niederhauser describes the mall on his blog:

“A local billionaire built it, and they did not come. The South China Mall was the most ambitious and largest retail space ever conceived in China, if not the world, when it opened in 2005. Constructed smack in the middle of the Pearl River Delta between Shenzhen and Guangzhou, about 4 million people live within six miles of it, 9 million within twelve miles and 40 million within sixty miles. Nonetheless, six years later, the South China Mall only maintains a 1% occupancy rate at best.

“This unabatedly empty temple to consumerism remains unfinished on top floors and is only sporadically visited thanks to the attached amusement park, Amazing World. For the time being dust and dismembered mannequins reign over the 6.5 million square foot venture. Although China might be the fastest growing consumer market in the world, the South China Mall reveals the vulnerability of this burgeoning economic giant.”


  New South China Mall (by: Remko Tanis, creative commons license)

  New South China Mall (by: Stephen Wolverton, creative commons license)

The mall has 7,100,000 square feet (163 acres) of leasable floor space and 9,600,000 square feet (220 acres) of total space.  Wikipedia reports that “the mall has seven zones modeled on international cities, nations and regions, including Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Venice, Egypt, the Caribbean, and California.”  It has a replica of the Arc de Triomphe, another of the bell tower of St. Mark’s in Venice, and a 1.3-mile canal with gondolas.

  New South China Mall (by: David290, public domain)

  a map on a kiosk inside the mall (by: Stephen Wolverton, Wkiimedia Commons)

What the New South China Mall (the owners added “new” to the name two years after the opening) doesn’t have is people or business. 

  New South China Mall (by: Milowent, public domain)

  New South China Mall (by: Remko Tanis, creative commons license)

Visit the official site here, or the English translation here.  If you have time, this is a very good (poignant, even) short film about the mall, by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Sam Green (you may have to sit through a 30-second ad at the beginning):


  Watch Utopia, Part 3: The World's Largest Shopping Mall on PBS. See more from POV.

Related posts:

Inspiration for today's title: this song, by Merle Haggard.

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page. 

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Gladys AndersenMar 30 2012 01:57 PM

I went through this article several time and I still don't know why the mall is empty. Did I miss something?

Kaid @ NRDCMar 30 2012 04:11 PM

From my understanding - which is extremely limited - the mall was plopped down in a bad location and no one signed up. Very bad judgment on the part of the investor. There's more detail in the video.

lewApr 6 2012 02:24 PM

Actually, this mall is indicative of the massive 'growth' in China that really isn't growth. What has happened is that the Chinese have built these along with massive 'villages and towns' in the middle of nowhere in order to receive $$$$ and purchase bonds using them as collateral.

The 'media' of the world and especially America, have done nothing to report of this. Check out this link if you think I'm joking. Done with the knowledge of your pols and the business world.

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