Welcome to the New South China Mall, better known as the world’s largest “dead mall.” It was built in 2005 on farm land by a billionaire who made his fortune in the instant noodle industry. Did his luck extend to commercial retail? Not so much. The mall has remained 99% vacant of commerce since the very first day it opened.
The mall is located in the suburbs of Dongguan, east of the Guangdong province’s largest city, and is home to more 10 million residents. With 892,000 square metres of leasable space, room for more than 2,000 shops, it was intended to be a hub for luxury shopping, “proof of China’s new consumer culture”, (said the NY Times), and attract up to 70,000 shoppers a day.
Seven zones was constructed within the mall, each representing a different city or region; Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, Venice (complete with a St. Mark’s bell tower and gondolas and a canal), California, Egypt … you get the idea.
“They were going for a monument, and a monument was what they got,” says Wade Shepherd of The China Chronicle, who visited the mega mall earlier this year.
So what went wrong? Alex Hu, our instant noodle billionaire, wanted to build his shrine to capitalism for his home city. But it seems Mr. Hu might be a little out of touch with his roots. The residents of Dongguan today are largely made up of low-earning factory workers. And all those farmers whose land was bulldozed to make way for his mall? Most of them also went to work for the factories in the China’s manufacturing heartland. All in all, not exactly the luxury consumers the mall was intended for.
I don’t even know what this is supposed to be.
The mall’s exact location is tricky too. In fact, it’s dreadful. From downtown Dongguan, it takes a seemingly never-ending two and a half hour bus ride to finally arrive at the mall– which has nothing in it. Unreachable to a large percentage of the public, there are no highways that take you straight there and yet it’s only accessible by car or bus. Most locals don’t even know how to get there because they’ve never bothered to go.
If you do finally get to the New South China mall, don’t expect to be able to go shopping. The only thing you’ll find are a few Western fast food chains near the entrance, a parking lot that’s being used as a karting track and the IMAX theatre (that’s a long way to go to see a movie).
And if you were a retailer interested in buying some space (hypothetically of course), good luck using the website of the world’s largest mall. Just click. Seriously.
They built it, but they did not come.
Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker Sam Green made a short film about the South China Mall called “Utopia Part 3: the World’s Largest Shopping Mall.” The film premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival
Take a ride with the Vagabond Journey to the South China Mall.