China’s Phantom Urbanisation and the Pathology of Ghost Cities

Christian Sorace*, William Hurst

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


This article examines the production of China’s “ghost cities” and constant urban expansion to challenge the dominant conceptual narrative of rural-to-urban migration as the driver of urbanisation. It argues that behind China’s “miraculous” urbanisation story is a powerful ideological commitment to urban growth as the “royal road” to modernity and assessment of political performance. Local governments have a wide-ranging “tool-kit” for pursuing urbanisation, ranging from administrative border-drawing to expropriation of rural land and investment in expanding urban infrastructures. Urbanisation is the destination to which all paths seem to lead. Indeed, local states pursue the construction of new urban space, even when doing so harms them financially. But why? The concept of phantom urbanisation names the process whereby constructing the aesthetic form of the urban is even more important to local state actors than economic, demographic or environmental repercussions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)304-322
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Contemporary Asia
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2 2016


  • China
  • aesthetics
  • ghost cities
  • political economy
  • urbanisation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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