The town of Chenzhuang in the Changping District of Beijing Municipality, China, was going to be famous.
At least, that’s what developers Reignwood Group were thinking in the late 1990s when they laid out the plans for a magnificent Disneyland-styled amusement park.
Even though most of it has now been demolished and replaced by a modern mall, a few randomly located incomplete structures can still be found dotted around the site.
It was meant to be the biggest theme park in Asia — instead, Wonderland was abandoned part-way through construction, in 1998.
After one of the projects key political backers become embroiled in the corruption scandal, it lost the support of local government officials.
Disputes with farmers over property prices ensued and building work ground to a halt.
For 15 years, Wonderland was a slightly eerie curiosity that could be seen in the distance by tourists as they traveled from the Ming Dynasty Tombs to the Badaling section of the Great Wall.
Half-completed castles, lonely towers and turrets in the middle of a flat, rural landscape with a stunning mountain backdrop. It must have looked like a zombie apocalypse movie set to those passing by.
A few intrepid explorers who went to check out Wonderland during it’s period of neglect found that it was not entirely empty.
The farmers who used to own the land returned to grow their various crops, and curious people from the local area would come to witness the silent pink-painted walls of the medieval-themed buildings.
The local government of Changping district obtained usage rights for a small part of the land in 2005, but Wonderland was left alone to continue slowly crumbling for another seven years.
When it was finally announced that the amusement park was going to be knocked down, it caught the attention of Western media.
The Daily Mail reported that “It was to be China’s answer to Disneyland – a magnificent theme park attracting millions of visitors a year with state-of-the art rides in a chintzy fairytale setting.”
Wonderland, or Blunderland as it is dubbed in the Daily Mail article, was envisioned to be “a bustling theme park attracting some three million visitors and generating 6 billion RMB ($1 billion) a year.”
But by April 2013, the dream was officially over. The demolition crew was on its way. Prince Charming was never coming to Wonderland.
Various reasons have been cited for the failure of Wonderland — or 沃德兰乐园 (Wodelan Leyuan) in Chinese, according to Time Out Beijing.
In an article for China Daily in 2013, Hou Liqiang quotes An Feng from the investment department of Reignwood Group as saying that “construction was suspended because most land covered by the park is forestry land, and the policy to protect such land changed after major floods in 1998, forcing the company to review its plans.”
However, the Daily Mail attribute its demise to politician Chen Xitong’s fall from grace. The Beijing Party Secretary, who was a major backer for the development, was charged with corruption in 1998.
The designer Badaling Outlet was opened on the site in June 2015.
It only takes up around 40 of the 120 acres earmarked for Wonderland, but it is still an impressive “mega mall” for those seeking a bit of retail therapy between visiting the regions tourist attractions.
At the rear of the parking lot, the skeleton of a fairy tale castle has been tastefully painted to match the new buildings of the shopping complex.
Among the other odd leftovers is the Old Gateway to Beijing Wonderland, which stands right next to the G6 Expressway.