A lot of people have heard of the South China Mall because it's commonly referred to as the largest mall in the world. It has 7.1 million square feet of space and is one of a handful of truly gargantuan malls that have been built in China.
There's just one little problem. The thing is virtually empty.
A report from The National details the mall's misfortunes. The mall suffers from the same problem a lot of the big China malls face--many of them are rush jobs and were built without incorporating some of the most important design techniques and strategies the U.S. mall industry learned the hard way. We explored this problem back in May 2007. (In fact, the South China Mall was the prime example cited in our story.)
What sets the South China Mall apart from the rest, besides its mind-numbing size, is that it never went into decline. The tenants didn't jump ship; they never even came on board. The mall entered the world pre-ruined, as if its developers had deliberately created an attraction for people with a taste for abandonment and decay. It is a spectacular real-estate failure – but it is also, as I saw when I spent two days exploring the site in May, a strangely beautiful monument to the big dreams that China inspires.
Three years ago, just before the South China Mall opened, it was featured on the front page of The New York Times as part of China's “astonishing” new consumer culture. As the Times put it, with perhaps a trace of hyperbole, the “Chinese have started to embrace America's â€˜shop till you drop' ethos and are in the middle of a buy-at-the-mall frenzy.” A spokesman for the mall's developer Hu Guirong, an instant-noodle billionaire, told the Times that Hu's team had spent two years traveling the world – France, Italy, Nevada – in search of ideas. They expected the mall to average more than 70,000 visitors a day. “We wanted to do something groundbreaking,” the spokesman said. “We wanted to leave our mark on history.”