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China’s new ghost town: Wonderland in Beijing
Photographer Catherine Hyland discovers a massive deserted theme park not far from the Great Wall
Ordos is history; the latest ghost town to be unearthed in China is Nankou, 45 minutes' drive north of Beijing.
Located along the highway to Badaling Great Wall, Nankou (南口镇) houses China’s most ambitious theme park attempt, which goes by the ironic name of Wonderland.
Now completely deserted among empty cornfields, back in 1996 the 123-hectare Wonderland was pegged to be the biggest theme park in Asia in by Thailand-based Reignwood Group.
The project was halted in 1998 after the developer and local farmers failed to reach an agreement over the rights of the land.
The construction site and its surrounding fields have thus lain derelict for nearly 14 years.
Deserted “Disneyland” in photo
British photographer Catherine Hyland is one of the first photographers to capture this deserted Disney-like park. She saw the giant castle when she was traveling by bus on the highway.
"I asked a local also traveling on the bus what the name of the town was," said Hyland. "Then as soon as I got back into Beijing, I began finding out how I could get back there."
The London-based artist was instantly enthralled by the site’s post-apocalyptic scenery and decided to document the haunted space.
“I felt intrigued, it did not seem unsettling but instead there was something very comforting about the way in which the locals have adapted to the surroundings,” the Royal College of Art graduate said.
“There is a lot of beauty to be found in the decaying surroundings, I find this kind of contradiction perplexing and pleasing at the same time."
Hyland noted that she was especially interested in documenting abandoned and unrealized projects and regarded Wonderland an embodiment of when “Disneyland meets Cormac McCarthy's ‘The Road’.”
According to the photographer, a small community now lives beside the abandoned castle, and residents appear to be tending the plants growing in the car park.
An unassuming attraction
Beijing-based Legal Evening News reported last year that Wonderland is gradually becoming an alternative attraction for Beijingers.
Nearby residents told the newspaper that the desolate construction site received visitors regularly. Most of them were students, photographers and artists looking to experience a “ruin culture."
An anonymous communications officer from Reignwood Group noted in the same report that the company has no plan to resume the construction of Wonderland in the foreseeable future.
Browse more photos of Wonderland on Catherine Hyland's website.
To go to Wonderland, drive north from Beijing downtown on the Badaling highway (八达岭高速). Wonderland is just to the east of the highway’s Chenzhuan toll gate (陈庄收费站).