China's Ghost Cities & Mystery of the World's Biggest Building

By Chuck Ray | Posted: 04/13/2014 11:27AM


Chuck Ray, PennState, Associate Professor of Wood Operations It's been a couple of years since we initially looked at the "ghost cities" of China. At that time, there was a feeling that the development just couldn't go on forever. Well, maybe not forever, but it has continued at least this long. As I was reminded by a 2013 report on Australia's "60 Minutes" TV show, the cities are still going up, although at least one mega-city project has been put "on hold" for the time being.

And if you've been put off by our government throwing its weight around by shutting down parks and monuments in last fall's shutdown, wait till you see how the Chinese government respects property "rights" that stand in the way of the development. Wow.

Now, at least one western investigator claims that in fact, these ghost cities are just future cities that are running slightly ahead of their occupancy...and that the people will come, and are coming. If he's correct, then it perhaps gives us some insight into how the Chinese government can justify the projects. Of course, issues of the efficiency and waste of this process make Western thinkers scratch our heads.

In the midst of all this "progress," it's not surprising that the world's largest building has just been completed and (apparently) occupied. But in a twist that just continues to make this whole story seem even more bizarre, the developer of the New Century Global Center in Chengdu has disappeared, following the last mayor of Chengdu into the mysterious realm of the missing. See Wall Street Journal video on this subject.

One thing I'm not seeing in these videos is a lot of wood products or construction. I know it's there, since China has continued to grow its imports of North American lumber products. It's just dwarfed by the scale of and preference for concrete and glass. Somewhat like the America of the 1950's and 60's, the Chinese apparently see progress in shiny and sterile materials. I suspect they too, will grow out of that phase and back to the good things like wood.

But in the meantime, we will hold our breath with the Australians, hoping for the best in the face of apparent economic insanity.


About the Author

Chuck Ray, PennState, Associate Professor of Wood Operations

Chuck Ray

Dr. Charles D. “Chuck” Ray is Associate Professor of Wood Operations Research at Pennsylvania State University. His specialty is in the area of operations research, specifically those operational issues that confront the majority of the wood products sector. He previously spent 15 years in research and quality management for two large building products corporations, Temple-Inland Forest Products and Louisiana-Pacific. Ray is the sixth generation of his family to work in the sawmill industry, the Ray Brothers Lumber Company, established in East Texas before the turn of the last century. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter @ChuckDRay. He maintains an Extension website for Penn State at and also writes a blog on all wood issues called Go Wood which can be found at

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A.M. Stover    
Bronx, NY  |  April, 15, 2014 at 08:48 AM

Dr.Chuck, another complelling article. I always look forward to your essays, please keep it up. You are by far the best of the bunch on this site. Thanks.!


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