This article originally appeared on VICE China.
It was supposed to be a shrine to the American dream—a $50 million USD amusement park on the outskirts of Shanghai that lasted less than five years before collapsing under the weight debt and shrinking crowds. Maybe it was the distance; Jiading is some 20 kilometers from downtown Shanghai. Maybe it was the steep competition; there were at least 80 amusement parks registered in Shanghai in 2002, and many of them struggled to attract crowds. Whatever the reason, I knew that the park was something I had to check out.
When our car pulled up to the amusement park's entrance, we discovered that the original site had been purchased by some real estate developer. There were police guarding the main entrance, so we tried to find an alternative way in.
The entire amusement park was surrounded by factories and shipping companies that, together, made this corner of Jiading a pretty gloomy place. We eventually found a way into the park by climbing the wall of a parking lot for trucks around back.
Once we scaled the wall, the amusement park—or what was left of it—appeared before our eyes. The place was, in a word, bleak. The ground was covered with fallen leaves. A man-made stream encircling the park grounds had turned a disgusting shade of green. The buildings—beaten down by years of rain and Shanghai smog—looked like the remnants of some nuclear fallout zone.
We wandered across an old bridge and pushed open the doors to an abandoned theater. The rows of seats were covered in a thick dust. A few rays of sunshine broke through the dingy broken window and hit the empty stage like a spotlight for no one. It was an eerie image that only emphasized the loneliness of the place.
The other doors were all open, presumably left that way by the urban explorers who came before us. But every building was empty, each of them a dust-covered time capsule of broken dreams. One building actually had an exhibition showcasing these photos of children. It was titled "Project Hope," like someone left it there as a dark joke, knowing someone would stumble upon it nearly 20 years later.
We walked around a bit more, snapping photos until we came to these old rail road tracks and another wall marking the edge of the park. I scaled the wall and left. It's not like there was anything left to see.