Be skeptical of what you read on the Internet.
I'll give you a moment to stop reeling from that shocking warning and collect yourself. The news is that China is building “ghost cities”, vast megalopoli (cool word) that have nobody living in them. Some of these cities are even built in the middle of nowhere: Mongolia, for example (no offense to our Mongolian readers). Conspiracy theorists have all sorts of speculations about this. Is China planning to forcibly relocate millions of people? It is China; certainly they must have something nefarious up their sleeve.
Much of the speculation is in line with the FEMA Prison Camp conspiracy theorists, who honestly believe that Obama is actively herding millions of law-abiding Americans into remote prison camps for systematic execution.
Indeed they may, but as we see so often, it is unnecessary to introduce a non-evidenced extraordinary explanation. Sadly for the conspiracy theorists, China does have perfectly rational, and disappointingly mundane, reasons for building “ghost cities”. But understanding these reasons teaches us more useful information than does our friendly neighborhood conspiracy blog.
The first point is that the stories are exaggerated. None of these cities are deserted, though they're certainly underpopulated. Here's another image of one such city, and note that are quite a few cars parked in one of the parking lots. Many other residents take bikes and don't show up so easily on Google Earth. A Skeptalk contributor from Finland noted that if the picture is taken at the right time of day or on a weekend, almost any city can be made to
In the case of Mongolia's Ordos City, which is often cited as the most bizarre instance of a ghost city, there's really no mystery at all. Ordos is home to a hugely disproportionate share of China's coal and natural gas. Its economy is the fastest growing in China, and its per-capita wealth is the highest in China. Ordos' government decided to keep their cash windfall in their own pocket, and so rather than see it invested elsewhere, they've built a fantastic new city capable of housing a million people, as a public works project. Enjoy Time Magazine's fascinating photo essay on Ordos City.
This is the case all over China. China has more people than jobs, so the government often hands out massive public works projects. It's often the case that the works are not needed immediately, but China knows that they will be soon. Click this Google Maps link that shows another frequently cited “mystery ghost city” — Zhengzhou New District — and then zoom out, and you'll see that it's merely a new suburb buried in an existing large city. It's hardly the unaccountable middle-of-nowhere enigma the conspiracy theorists make it out to be.
Time Magazine's article also fears that these “ghost cities” are symptomatic of a real estate bubble throughout China. Whole retail complexes near Beijing's Olympic Village remain unoccupied, and there is a housing oversupply in many regions. In the case of the ghost cities, vast blocks of residences have been purchased by investors with the intention of flipping them; and since the buyers of expensive new houses have not yet materialized, some analysts predict a seismic popping of China's real estate bubble. It could be the biggest market crash the world has ever seen.
Or, the analysts could be wrong, and maybe China is planning to imprison millions of its citizens in remote cities to execute them, following Obama's example.