Ordos Kangbashi is a mythical sort of place. It is a new city out in the middle of a desert in Inner Mongolia that was built up from scratch in an area that has never really known urbanization before. There is literally nothing around it, and up until a handful of years ago there was nothing here but windswept shrub lands. This land has traditionally been known as a poor backwater of China full of impoverished peasants and sheepherders.
Then around a decade ago, boondocks became boom town. The face of this stretch of the Ordos Desert was instantly transformed as massive deposits of coal and rare earth were discovered. This provided the impetus to construct an entirely new, state of the art, uber-modern city to monumentalize this newfound wealth. Simply put, the name Ordos is Mongolian for “The Land of Many Palaces,” and its Kangbashi new district is meant to make this nomenclature a reality.
If nothing else, putting up a brand new city in the middle of a desert can be called bizarre, and it is this inability to understand this place that has perhaps lead to many visitors to simplify their observations. Many, including correspondents from the Al Jeezera, Time Magazine, Canada’s CCTV, visited Kangbashi and called it a ghost city. Some even went as far as to summarize the project as a nefarious plot to boost GDP, while others have mocked it as a colossal example of China’s housing bubble which they predict is about to burst. Whatever is the case, what we are witnessing in China is a model for urban development that is very unique unto itself and it is therefore difficult to truly understand and very easy to misinterpret.
More on Vagabond Journey: China’s Most Famous Ghost City Comes Alive
Understanding that there is far more to the story in Ordos, filmmakers Adam Smith and Song Ting have decided to investigate the rise of this new city for themselves in a feature length documentary called The Land of Many Palaces. Joining us from Beijing, Adam and Ting are our guests for Vagabond Journey podcast #3: