The term “Ordos” means “palaces” in Mongolian and reflects the grand plans that authorities once had for this region; plans that would tragically fall to ruin. It is one of Inner Mongolia’s twelve major subdivisions and is located within the Ordos Loop of the Yellow River. During the 17th century it was known as Ih Ju League, a “league” being the Mongolian term for prefecture, but was renamed Ordos in 2001. The prefecture itself has a population of nearly 2 million people but its administrative centre, Ordos City, has now become famous worldwide as “China’s Ghost City”.
The city rests near to the Ordos Desert, also known as the Mu Us Desert, which stretches out over a colossal 90,650 square kilometres (35,000 sq. mi) and is made up of two large deserts; the Kubuqi in the north and the Maowusu in the south. These are the 7th and 8th largest deserts in China respectively and together cover an area greater than that of Ireland!
The city was built to house over a million people but, due to financial problems and issues with deadlines, it remains unfinished and almost completely empty. In particular, the Kangbashi New Area, which was built in 2003 and is about 25 kilometres (16 mi) from Dongsheng District, is home to only 28,000 people with 98% of its apartment complexes left unused. While most visitors complain that Chinese cities are simply too overcrowded, the eerie silence of Ordos City’s empty streets is hardly preferable!
The city itself is littered with stunning monuments reflecting Mongolian history, such as the Genghis Khan Plaza and the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan. Gigantic statues of two rearing horses and the mighty warrior Genghis Khan rise up silently at the centre of the plaza and are some of the many “ghosts” that haunt the city. The Ordos Museum and Kangbashi Theatre are two exemplary works of modern architecture that can be found near the plaza, yet they too remain largely empty. The city is so unnervingly quiet that it has been made the subject of many articles by well-known publications such as Al Jazeera and TIME magazine. After all, as the old saying goes, “there is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary”, and fortunately a Ghost City can’t die!