the golden city of boten

Huiying Ore

2013 - Ongoing


China is famous for exporting its mass-produced goods around the world for global consumption. Less well known are its attempts to export its urban ideology. Across the country’s southern border with Laos and Myanmar lie six settlements built by Chinese developers, which operate businesses owned and run by the Chinese. Boten, a town located in northern Laos, is one of them.

Under the special economic zone plan, in 2003 Laos signed a 30-year lease on 4,000 acres of forest to a Chinese development company. The Chinese investors started building a “Golden City” centered on a casino-hotel. Touted as a futuristic hub for trade and tourism, the Golden City ran on Beijing time and made transactions in Chinese yuan, populated by mainly Chinese migrants. There are more than 20000 land concession projects like this one in Laos, one of the poorest countries in the world. Abundant with natural resources, Laos welcome these offers of investment with the promise of foreign technologies, capital and infrastructure development.

Yet less than three years after it opened, the casino was forced to close due to speculation over criminal activity. Without gambling tourism, other businesses could not survive. Most of the Chinese left, only a handful remain and harbour hope that a change will come and the city will be revived. The Golden City, deserted as it is today, remains a monument to the Chinese version of urban modernity.

These images are part of the result of my ongoing fascination with the model of development in Southeast Asia. In the closely knitted community of Southeast Asia, less developed countries often look towards their more affluent neighbours for financial and developmental aid. By documenting phenomenon of this interconnectivity, I am interested in exploring the conflicts between China’s economic vision and the reality of Laotians who have to bear the consequences. My photos aim to bring my audience on a journey of discovery—intellectually, emotionally and imaginatively—about two countries: one flexing its economic muscle in the region and a much smaller one few people would know about.

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  • Laos signed a 30-year lease on 1640 hectare of land at Boten to a Chinese developer who built a city centered on an integrated casino-hotel. Boten will be the last stop along the proposed Laos highspeed railway before it enters into Mengla, China.

  • Before the Laos proposed railway connects with China, it will pass through the abandoned ‘Golden City’ of Boten at the Northern Laos border, which once housed a casino and hotel development by investors from China.

  • A Laotian worker at a restaurant in border town of Boten waits for customers. Business is quiet at the now abandoned town, yet optimism runs through the town now that the China-Laos railway has begun its construction.

  • Only a handful of Chinese remained in Boten after the casinos closed down. Laundry can be seen at the commercial street next to a dilapidated wall.

  • Laotian workers at a resturaunt in border town of Boten wait for customers. Business is quiet at the abandoned town, yet optimism runs through the town now that the China-Laos railway has begun its construction.

  • Games booths lie abandoned outside a nightclub called Global Village in Boten. Before it closed down, the casino town of Boten attracted tourists from China and Thailand, where gambling is prohibited.

  • The ‘Global Village’ nightclub, an entertainment complex, lies abandoned after residents vacate the Golden City.

  • Qixing Wei moved from his hometown in Fujian, China to start a hotel in Boten. Once a brisk business, his hotel is now vacant except for him and 2 of his employees.

  • Empty seafood tanks and furniture in a restauant at Boten city gather dust after a long period of disuse.

  • Laotian workers at a restaurant in border town of Boten wait for customers. Business is quiet at the now abandoned town, yet optimism runs through the town now that the China-Laos railway has begun its construction.

  • A swimming pool was built as part of a sports complex intended for residential use in the abandoned city of Boten built by Chinese developer.

  • A supermarket in Boten stocked with goods from China. Almost all businesses in the city are run by merchants from China.

  • Miss Liang, 22 year old Laotian from Luang Prabang, is one of the 12 room attendants remaining in the Golden City Casino Hotel. She came because she could not find work in her hometown. At its peak, the hotel had 100 room attendants, mostly from China.

  • Jia Jia, a 25 years old Laotian from Luang Namtha Province, lives in one of the workers' quarters in Golden City with her Chinese boyfriend, who works in a nearby construction site.

  • A handful of Chinese residents who remained in Boten hang out at night in a massage parlour that doubles up as an internet gaming shop at night.

  • Two 22 year old massage parlour girls from Chongqing wait around for customers. They are thinking to go back to their hometown, as there is no work in Boten.

  • Lim Shiye, 52 year-old from Fujian Province, lives in Boten to manage a hotel he invested in. His wife and grandson visit him once a year and spend a few months during each visit.

  • Plans for the city included a multi-storey jewellery mall and a golf course. The mall building stood empty and incomplete for a few years when Boten was abandoned by its Chinese developers.

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