Empty Malls – A Visual Essay

February 2022 – A specter of urban transformation is roaming the plains of Hebei countryside. The publication Beijing22 – Speculative Grounds – Positions on Beijing’s urban transformation marks a first retrospect on the Beijing22 project initiated by curators Antonie Angerer, Anna-Viktoria Eschbach and photographer Jannis Schulze. The response of Beijing’s committee “No Snow, No Problem” to wondering journalists on how the Winter Olympics of Beijing would be able to take place in such a snow scarce place, marked the starting point for the project, choosing 2022 as a timeframe to investigate the urban changes happening until and because of the Winter Olympics. The proclamation of making the impossible possible was a glimpse into the drastic transformation Greater Beijing would be facing in the years to come.

The book includes a visual essay by me on the empty malls in Beijing, which you can find here.

While China is, or aims to be, moving from being a manufacturer of products towards being a creator, its rising middle classes have pushed levels of consumption rapidly upwards. The move is thus not only from ‘made in China’ towards ‘created in China,’ but also towards ‘consumed in China’. This move is accompanied by rapid processes of digitization, enabling a digital economy in which goods are being traded online, meals are being delivered at home and second hand items are being sold. This may be one explanation why the malls in Beijing are so often eerily empty. When compared to the malls in Hong Kong, those in Beijing often strike me as a setting in a movie from Jia Zhangke. They serve as the counter narrative to the narrative of the rise of China and its consumption boom, the make us ask: how can they survive? How do the shopkeeper cope with the boredom? Making use of ample pictures taken in Beijing in empty malls, this visual essay will probe into these questions, linking them to the emerging middle class of China and their consumption culture, in relation to processes of digitization.