Fit for a Princess?
With China's decaying answer to Cinderella's Castle looming overhead on December 5, a farmer walks through cropland reclaimed after the late-1990s failure of the Wonderland amusement park—"rediscovered" this month by photographer David Gray.
Surprisingly easy to visit for adventurous travelers in China, the sprawling site offers a ghostly look at what was to have been Asia's largest theme park—now a rusting parallel universe of Disney World doppelgängers.
In 1998 the Reignwood Group, a Thai-owned property developer, touted plans to build Wonderland on 120 acres (48 hectares) in the village of Chenzhuang in China, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) outside of Beijing.
But the deal—which seemed poised to reap the bounty of a surging middle class with time and money to spare—went sour around 2000, when the developer, the local government, and farmers could not agree on the value of the land. An attempt to resuscitate the project in 2008 also failed.
While Reignwood moved on to other equally ambitious projects, including a golf course and a chain of luxury hotels, Wonderland's grand plans have yielded to more traditional production—in this case, corn.
Many analysts say such scenes may become more common in China as property values that soared over the past decade have moved steadily downward for the first time since private home ownership became legal in the 1990s. Local governments, which have used land as collateral for some U.S. $1.7 trillion in debt, are left in a dangerous situation.
—Zoe Alsop in Beijing