Yuan Xiaomei, a community supervisor in Kangbashi, China, tears open a cardboard box and hands out brochures and promotional fans to crowd of locals. The fans are emblazoned: “To build a civilised city, we need you. Thank you for your participation.” The residents fan themselves and flip through the brochures. One woman explains to her friend who can’t read: “It’s telling you how you should act in the city. Don’t spit, don’t throw rubbish on the streets, don’t play loud music, don’t drive on the pavement.”
It’s a lot to take in for people who, weeks earlier, were living in remote villages spread across the sparsely populated Ordos region of Inner Mongolia, China.
Fifteen miles away to the south, if you look out from the front entrance of Hao Shiwen’s farmhouse, you can see the tower blocks of Kangbashi looming over an otherwise unusually quiet pastoral landscape. Kangbashi – which became known as China’s “ghost city” when it was first built four years ago – is where Shiwen has been debating whether to move. He must decide whether to follow the path of his previous neighbours, seduced to the city by the government’s generous compensation package, or to stay in his village, now left surreally empty and quiet.