South China Mall: the largest (ghost) mall in the world

The South China Mall is the largest mall in the world, and it's a ghost town, with only a handful of shops in its peeling, spooky, sprawling guts.
The employees of this giant mall could, if they wanted, spend their breaks driving bumper cars, browsing for house-wares, strolling along a Venetian canal, petting fake herons in an indoor rain forest, or gazing at an eighty-five-foot replica of the Arc de Triomphe – all, of course, without leaving the premises. They could also picnic next to the bell tower of St Mark’s Square in Venice, soak up the ambience of San Francisco, or take a ride on the mall’s indoor-outdoor roller coaster, a 553-meter flying railway known as Kuayue Shi Kong, or “Moving Through Time and Space”.

As it happens, it’s just those things – time and space – that give so much trouble to the workers here. They have too much of both. On a recent Friday afternoon, an amusement-park employee, slouched in a forsaken ticket booth, tried to kill time by making origami. Another worker slept, with perfect impunity, on a table. In front of the haunted house attraction, one attendant was doing hand-stands while two others looked blankly on.

There was nothing else to do, because the South China Mall, which opened with great fanfare in 2005, is not just the world’s largest. With fewer than a dozen stores scattered through a space designed to house 1,500, it is also the world’s emptiest – a dusty, decrepit complex of buildings marked by peeling paint, dead light bulbs, and dismembered mannequins.


(See the comment thread for more links.)

Thanks, Marilyn!)


  1. I disagree.
    This place is a huge failure.
    It tells you what is in the place.
    What they never approached business or signed contracts for vendors etcetera before pulling this place together?
    Photo’s would be kewl though…
    I want to see the Venetian canal, maybe the gondolas have robotic gondoliers to sing Amore.

  2. What this mall needs is some zombies! Yeah, zombies–and mybe George A Romero making a better remake.

  3. I used to work in a dead mall called the Tysons Gallera, or Tysons II, back in the mid 1990s. The mall had been opened in the early 1990s, and at the time I worked there, had 3 levels and only 30% occupancy.

    It had been opened as an “upscale mall” with the world’s first Versace store, fur stores, jewelers, an FAO Schwartz, a Ritz Carlton Hotel, and so on, but they never quite got the attention they needed. First, they opened right at the beginning to Bush H’s recession, and second, the kinds of people who go these stores never want to go to a mall.

    I worked at a furniture store there, and we lost over $150k/year due to low revenue (as in $150k below making it even). Often DAYS would go by where I saw nobody. To my right were 4 store spaces that had never been opened. To my left was the Franklin Mint and then about 3 spaces with no stores. It was as lonely as being a hermit. I had trouble finding employees because nobody ever came by to see a “Help wanted” sign, and I couldn’t afford to pay well, either.

    The loneliness was brutal. Sometimes I would daydream, doodle, or just stare off into space. When people came by, it was being jarred suddenly. A customer? A CUSTOMER? Oh, no… “just looking…”

    And the mall, being upscale, was cleaned frequently to steal as much look of decay as it could. The empty spaces were drywalled up, and a cheap trump l’oeil that gave an illusion of an intentional wall with a potted plant, marble column, or another hallway were painted on them. Subtle, “Space for lease” signs dotted the walls in tasteful moderation. The mall employed store spies to make sure no one opened late, no one was asleep in their stores, and that your store, no matter what you sold, was clean and neat.

    The rented the space out to Hollywood a few times, and films like “First Son” were filmed in part there. They also held various events to try and let people know that there was more to the mall that Macy’s, but they always held them on the lowest floor with the highest occupation, and since I was on the top floor, all i could hear was the echoing of distant people like some special effect they had from drug trips in 1970s movies.

    I got out of there after a year, and eventually the mall did get management that filled it up. I was there again last year after an 11 year absence, and it was a boring mall, but had about 90% occupancy.

  4. Well, now we know the problem. They can’t tell the difference between Venice and Amsterdam.

  5. This seems to happen a lot in communist countries. The government always goes for large construction projects that either go unfinished, or go unused. In Cuba and North Korea there are many prominent unfinished construction projects. For China we have this mall and also Splendid China as examples.

    But Splendid China doesn’t count because it was in the US, you say? Not so. These unfinished or failed projects are examples of governments attempting to force the invisible hand of the market. The governments decide they want a hotel, they decide they want an amusement park, they decide they want a gigantic shopping mall. They don’t check to see first whether it is actually going to be successful. I think this is the root cause of this common factor among large communist nations.

  6. i agree with dave! what’s up with writing a feature on the mall and no photos.

    what, no cameras allowed in china? :(

  7. Have you people learned nothing in our post-9/11 world. There is NO PICTURE TAKING allowed in public spaces. Your clamoring for pictures is why the terrorists are winning, people. If large, vacant spaces don’t need to be protected, then I don’t know what does.

  8. I think Michael Donohue did a terrific job and the one photo was well chosen and sufficient. Cheers also to The National — lots of editors would’ve chopped that piece down to a couple sensational paragraphs and run it with a half-dozen photos. Cory thanks for the post, major LOLs. Thanks also to annon for posting the mall’s English site as I found some really hilarious stuff there too.

  9. The inter net killed the average-Joe Mall, and at the same time turned the world into a bunch of “lazy” node dwellers.

  10. There were dead malls long before internet shopping became popular, and there are still a lot of malls doing fine. The myth in the early 80s was Build Mall –> Profit! The truth is that some malls worked and some never did. Some malls worked for a while and then went dead. It all depends on what sort of competition they have, the local economy, the design of the place, the management, the vicissitudes of what happens to their anchors at the national level, etc. In other words, malls fail and thrive just like any other business.

    Nobody’s building enclosed malls in the U.S. any more; the trend these days is outdoor “lifestyle centers” or big-box shopping centers. Same basic idea, just a different physical form.

  11. Thanks #9 for the link to the mall’s English site, where I learned that “Area F [the food wing] will be an ever-bright city of world delicacy.” And then there is “Amazing World” in Area D which somehow combines a world building material supermarket with entertainment such as Hollywood films and “exciting and breathtaking marching in the riptide and switchback.” Certainly can’t find that at Home Depot.

  12. There was a series of three, one hour specials a few years back that featured Penn & Teller going to India, China, and Egypt to find out the type of magic they do. One of the places they went to in China was similar to this mall. It was supposed to be a showcase for all kind of Chinese magic acts, but no one was there except the magicians, Penn & Teller, and a camera crew. Part of that may have been that they were taping in the winter and the buildings did not have heat, but I got the impression that even while it was warm, it wasn’t exactly crowded.

  13. I’m surprised that no one’s pointed out the irony of this feature running in a paper in the UAE, which must be the present-day champion of massive pointless building sprees.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see an article not unlike this one, although about a massively larger-scale disaster, when whole neighborhoods of Dubai go bust in a few years.

  14. Dismembering mannequins! That’s even more frightening than people claiming for photos when the actual article has 11.

  15. I appreciate the included link to, which gives post-mortems to some places that I used to hang out at. I was appalled, however, at the description of College Hills Mall in Normal, Illinois–not the description per se, but the numerous grammar and spelling errors in it, written by someone who claims to have attended nearby Illinois State University. I mean, I know that kids these days are usually lost without a spelling checker, but FFS.

  16. Wow is cool. Has all the old malls that I would frequent for the arcade. It seems like every time a bitchin’ arcade was put in a mall, the mall would close it’s doors two years later.

  17. We went to China in 2007 and when we were in Shanghai on a particularly nasty day, we strolled into a large shopping mall there. All of the shops were high-end stores that were completely void of customers. Where were all the customers, we asked one worked and she claimed not to know. Our suspicions still rest on the fact that most of the high-end clothing in China is bought in the black markets and not at these copyright protected stores in the nice malls. The black markets (Yu Yuan Gardens had a large one and the Pearl Market in Beijing too) were always bustling with their fake iPods and slightly badly sewn Prada purses.

  18. You’ve got to love marketers. The official website paints an entirely different picture than Donohue’s article. The Flickr pics are fascinating as well, but then again, I love urban decay – even if this mall isn’t particularly decayed yet. It’s empty enough to be creepy. I’m definitely thinking zombie movies…

    Thanks Marilyn Terrell for the link to BLDGBlog. I’ve been lost there for the last hour and a half. Check out this post on mapping sci-fi locations in Google Maps:

  19. To Muscato, who writes:
    I’m surprised that no one’s pointed out the irony of this feature running in a paper in the UAE, which must be the present-day champion of massive pointless building sprees.

    I’d say there’s no irony about it. The piece talks quite a bit about the mall-building boom in the UAE, and I suspect there’s a very good reason a publication in the UAE decided to look at the world’s biggest mall.

  20. The “Malls of America” blog ( is my favorite site on dead malls. Tons of great photos (more VINTAGE ones than anywhere else!).

    But yeah, shopping malls even here in America have been dropping like flies the past decade or so. And the ones that do remain are all starting to look the same. No unique character from one to the other anymore. I miss old malls. And abandoned ones are downright spooky!

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