China’s Manhattan Sheds Ghost Town Image as Towers Begin to Fill

When Zhang Zhenhua arrived to Tianjin in 2014 to take on a job as a security guard at a luxury apartment complex, he didn’t expect to work in a surreal ghost town of vacant office canyons and half-finished high-rises.

Yet that’s pretty much what Zhang, who hails from a village in nearby Hebei, encountered when he reported for duty in Tianjin’s Xiangluowan district, the epicenter of the northern port city’s audacious proposal to create a 1.59 square kilometer replication of Manhattan. “The place was empty,” Zhang recalled. “I could barely see anyone on the street.”

The unreal emptiness of China’s vision of a new Manhattan and other mega-city developments has drawn unflattering international press coverage and come to symbolize the folly and financial risks of debt-fueled infrastructure projects and runaway urbanization. 

There still may still be a financial reckoning for Tianjin looming in the future, but right now there are

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