Chengdu, “An Ocean City Built by Man”?
Driven by the nation’s pursuit of economic development through marketization since the 1990s, urban spaces in China have been increasingly commercialized.
In September 2013, the world’s largest mall opened in the southwestern China city of Chengdu. “Twice the size of both the previous mall record holder in Dubai and the biggest mall in Guangdong called the New South China Mall,” according to China Highlights, the New Century Global Center is designed to be a self-contained town that includes its own hotels with 2,000 rooms and an indoor beach area that is more than one-kilometer long.
Yet, the accumulation of economic expectations by reconfiguring urban spaces precedes benefits of a rapidly growing economy to which many Chinese were promised. With the decentralization of state power as a major policy in the 1980s, the central government no longer dictated its decisions to the localities and the appropriation for urban land for commercial development came under regional jurisdiction. However, the push for economic reform by pursuing “the largest in China and in the world” has failed to contemplate the purchasing power of the local people.
Arrested on corruption charges, the businessman behind the megaproject of the New Century Global Center, Deng Hong, was a close friend of Li Chuncheng, former deputy party secretary of Sichuan province who was “removed in December 2012 for selling official positions to unqualified candidates,” the South China Morning Post reported. The state’s transfer of administrative power over land use has thus enabled the transformation of residential area as part of the state welfare system to the foundation for commercial housing development by creating incentives for illegal collaborations between the local government and real-estate developer while asserting Beijing’s role as defender of “social stability and harmony.”
The failed matrimony between the “idyllic beauty” of “a world class modern city”, as touted in the promotional video of the shopping mall, and pleasures derived from its extravagant entertainment facilities has defeated the purpose it proposed to fulfill. To the extent that the staggering 19 million sq.ft space houses luxury hotels and boutiques, the function of which is perhaps more of a display of economic prowess than of service, its economic ambitions have become unaffordable for ordinary Chinese customers. That the Party’s work should be directed to resolving contradictions between “the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people with the low level of production,” as indicated in the Party Constitution, is unlikely to be realized even with the world’s largest LED screen that displays sunsets and sunrises.