About 45 minutes outside of Beijing are the remnants of Wonderland, meant to be the biggest amusement park in all of Asia. But after nearly a decade of construction, jackhammers suddenly dropped, and the cranes and bulldozers pulled away. The project was mysteriously scrapped, and the incomplete, abandoned Disneyland replica became a creepy ghost town. Here’s what made them stop building — and what took it over afterwards.
Reignwood Group’s Magical Vision
In the 1980s, a Thai-Chinese entrepreneur by the name of Dr. Chanchai Ruayrungruang put together an investment group called Reignwood Group. They were an instant success, as some big money rolled in. That said, the investment group wanted to take things to the next level and accomplish something monumental.
The folks at Reignwood Group turned their focus to the West and saw what a huge success amusement parks like Disneyland and Disney World were. With that in mind, they put their heads together and came up with a huge money-making idea, one that could possibly change Asia as a whole. However, at the time they had no idea just how badly their vision would eventually be smashed.
Wonderland Amusement Park
In the style of the Disney Parks that were bringing joy to millions on an annual basis, the Reignwood Group decided they would construct an amusement park that would trump them with ease. They found a perfect location just 45 minutes outside of Beijing in Chenzhuang Village.
The plot of land that the group found was vast, green, and had a beautiful mountainous backdrop. Construction on what was called Wonderland Amusement Park started in the middle of the 1990s. From what passersby could see, this wasn’t going to be just your regular run-of-the-mill amusement park. Something special was being built on that land — something that could even make the most mature adult feel a child’s sense of wonderment.
The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of
Wonderland Amusement Park wasn’t only going to bring all the charms of California’s Disneyland. Rather, it was promising to be the biggest amusement park in all of Asia. It was going to have an array of activities for people of all ages. There would be some kiddie rides for the kids and roller coasters for thrill seekers.
In addition to its scenic medieval structure, it was going to be full of shops, restaurants, shows, and games. Wonderland was set to be an amusement park for the ages, and it had 120 acres of land to back up that claim. However, this amusement park was far from being 100% legitimate.
The folks at Reignwood Group had a fairly credible reputation around Asia. However, when it came to Wonderland, they tossed all those copyright laws aside and didn’t hesitate to brazenly rip off Disney wherever they could. It wouldn’t take long for anyone who had been to Disneyland to believe that Wonderland was in fact associated with The Walt Disney Company.
For starters, the font on the welcome sign was identical to that of the instantly-recognizable typeface Disney used. The designers even put a giant castle at the center of the park. While Wonderland’s structure looked like it had nearly been completed, something suddenly happened that threw the Chinese public off.
Mysteriously Stopping Construction
In 1998, locals found themselves dumbfounded as the construction workers suddenly pulled away and headed back to Beijing. They didn’t know what happened to the wonderland that awaited them. As you can imagine, many Chinese residents were brokenhearted and confused when they saw that a bunch of half-built castles were now utterly abandoned.
To begin with, the reason for the abrupt halt in construction was unclear. Rumors were running rampant as to why Wonderland was suddenly abandoned. Some would chalk it up to some massive disagreements between farmers and the local governments over property prices. However, nobody knew, and the two welcoming gates to the park would remain locked. Yet for one reason alone, Wonderland would remain a hotly-discussed topic.
Visiting The Forgotten Wonderland
For a few years, Chinese locals sat tight and waited for Wonderland construction to be picked up again. Millions had already been poured into the budget to create the park, and the bright colors of the entrance and the giant castles were able to deliver a tempting promise merely by being there.
With the passing of time, people largely forgot about the doomed project of Wonderland. They realized that they would have to make peace with the fact that they would never ride its roller coasters, nor eat the lavish meals that were promised in its open food court. Life moved on, yet the skeleton of Wonderland remained, and some people began to take interest in this forgotten promise of the ’90s.
An Apocalyptic Disneyland
As the 1990s drifted away, the forgotten skeletal castles of a place once planned to be called Wonderland Amusement Park looked more eerie and haunted than a place of joy and wonder. The crowds that it attracted were the opposite of the Beijing middle and upper class that it had originally been built for.
Wonderland became a hot spot for urban explorers, farmers, and the local kids. For a while the entrance was still beautiful enough to catch the attention of someone passing by. However, the bright colors soon began to melt away, revealing a depressing gray. This park was continuously drifting further from the vision it had once been intended to fulfill. However, passersby could have easily gotten the wrong idea about Wonderland.
Beautiful Castles In The Distance
If someone would have been riding by Wonderland on the highway a few years ago, they definitely would have been lured in by the gigantic colorful castles at the entrance, and even by the parking lot that still looked to be in amazing condition. The fake flags at the entrance way would no doubt throw a few people off, thinking they were actual waving flags.
However, one could have only discovered the true hollow sadness of Wonderland beyond the entrance. Upon entering, any intrepid visitor would have been in for an eyeful of abandoned sidewalks that never reached completion, and entrances to what would have been beautiful restaurants, but were left gutted on the inside. One videographer named Catherine Hyland described the bizarre scene perfectly.
Trapped In Limbo
In a rather poetic manner, Catherine Hyland described the haunting amusement park as being “trapped in limbo, a hybrid space between the ‘real’ and the artificial, this environment induces a sense of transformation or manipulation that appears to permeate and displace the realm of fantasy.”
She continued her observations by saying the amusement park had been “tamed by the locals, the uncompleted remnants of Wonderland become the antithesis of everything it was supposed to be, its value altered permanently.” There was one ominous structure that definitely did a wonderful job of sending a shiver down any urban explorer’s spine. It was one of the most impressive Wonderland monuments by far.
An Empty Meeting Place
One of the most standout pieces in Wonderland was its giant rusted scaffolding structure. The structure was originally intended to be a glassed-in food court where hundreds could gather to lounge and munch away on the park’s lavish variety of cuisine. When in there, one could almost hear the phantom shrieks of excited children and the chatter of families that would never arrive.
Of course, no meals were ever eaten inside the structure. The glass panes were never even brought to the site. And so, it stood there for years as just a vast framework, bare and exposed to the elements, a skeleton that would rust and weaken with every passing day. Yet long after this and other structures were left to rot, things took a rather unexpected turn.
The Truth Comes Out
Years after the abandoned amusement park shut down, An Fang, the chief inspector of the investment supervision department of Reignwood Group, revealed the truth about why the construction stopped. She said that the project had been abandoned due to the fact that much of the land the park was meant to cover was forested.
After some major flooding in 1998, a policy was placed that would protect this land, which resulted in the amusement park plans getting the axe. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but on top of that policy, they were also having problems with farmers in the area. All this came out in light of some future plans that the Reignwood Group still held for the area.
Giving Wonderland a Second Try
After the dust settled in the wake of the heated arguments of 1998, the Reignwood Group eventually came back to the area in 2008. Still seeing potential in much of their abandoned work, they tried to pick up where they left off. With a paint job and some new materials, the fragmented remains of their broken dream could yet be transformed into the Wonderland they had once envisioned.
However, conflicts and controversies began to heat up once again, and the amusement park was ultimately abandoned for a second and final time. But even if Reignwood Group no longer had a part to play, the story of Wonderland was far from over. Its fate was about to take a positive turn in the year that followed. A certain group of people moved in — and began taking over.
Farmers On The Rise
Once Wonderland was officially abandoned, farmers moved in on the grounds and began planting corn fields. Every available patch of soil was used for their crops, which resulted in the park looking even more bizarre than it had before. The road leading up to Wonderland’s towering centerpiece castle was now paved with stalks of corn and agricultural workers.
A photographer by the name of David Grey found himself there in 2011 and said the following: “I came across a rather farcical sight of some farmers digging a well next to a castle; a moment I will always savor as a photographer in a place like China where castles are not in huge supply.” However, Wonderland didn’t become entirely covered with crops by that point. Another photographer, Trey Ratcliff, hit the scene in 2011. He had a much shadier side of Wonderland to report.
A Victim of Nature
The structures that form the ghost park were falling apart and being taken over by flora and fauna. Wild animals had moved in on the grounds of the abandoned park, as feral dogs would bark at Ratcliff as he walked from castle to castle and tried to enter the structures they now held domain over.
No more color could be seen on the castles. Time, the bright sun, and the rain had done a quick job aging everything. When there was a hint of color, it was usually because it had been left by a graffiti artist. However, while the general abandonment was creepy enough, Ratcliff heard a lot of rustling while exploring the structures. This would eventually reveal something very haunting.
The People Of Wonderland
While exploring the abandoned Disneyland-but-not-Disneyland castles, Ratcliff heard the sound of children and footsteps all around him. However, he couldn’t actually spot anyone. Obviously, imagination ran wild: was it the ghosts of disappointed locals who never got to reap the joys of Wonderland, or something much worse?
While exploring on shaky legs, the young photographer soon found himself face to face with a kid who held a weapon directly to his face. He didn’t stick around to learn more, quickly fleeing the scene. However, many photographers were actually able to capture pictures of people living in Wonderland. That said, despite its new burgeoning population, a couple years later, Wonderland would go through yet another evolution.
In May 2013, bulldozers and cranes once again made their way over to the ruins of Wonderland. This time, it wasn’t to construct and expand the broken structures, but to deconstruct them completely. The castles and the hopes and dreams of so many were torn to the ground.
During an interview with Sena, An Fang revealed that the Reignwood Group still had rights to some of the land. She said, “In 2005, the local government of Changping district got the usage rights for part of the land covered by the park back when it was doing the planning for its new town. However, we can use only 15 hectares now.” She then revealed their big plan for the area.
The Badaling Outlets
Fang declared, “A comprehensive luxury product supermarket will be built on the site, but we are still going through the planning permission formalities.” It actually ended up being a luxury mall. Within two years, the Disney ripoff was torn to the ground, cleared, and replaced by an outlet called the Badaling Outlets.
The once-creepy and ominous area now actually looks rather trendy. The Badaling Outlets features shops with a number of brands like Bottega Veneta, Prada, Burberry, Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci, BVLGARI, Chloé, Fendi, and tons more. It also provided the locals in the area with up to 1,600 jobs. Yet even among the boutique shops, one piece of Wonderland looms in the far distance.
The Last Remaining Castle
While it isn’t standing right beside the trendy outlet stores, not too far from where the action is happening remains the giant abandoned Disneyland centerpiece castle that would have signaled the greatness of Wonderland. It will take some effort to find, though given its brand new paint job, it might be worth a look.
While the castle’s origin stories are no mystery now, we can only wonder what the generation of kids will think in 30 years when they come across this rusted fairy tale fortress in a field behind the outlets. However, if the demise of Wonderland comes as a disappointment and you’d still like to get your abandoned amusement park fix on, there is a wonderful surprise awaiting you.
Welcome to Sino Wonderland
Back in 2013, Huainan, China was expecting to see an amusement park that would give Disneyland, Six Flags, and Knott’s Berry Farm a run for their money. Not to get confused with the amusement park by a similar name, this park was called Sino Wonderland, and managed to look even more grand. As rides were moving in and construction surged forward, it was announced that the park would be opening its doors in 2014.
Sadly, much like Wonderland Amusement Park, the doors to Sino Wonderland never opened. Just when it looked to be 75% finished, funds ran out and construction had to be completely abandoned. Despite the mass shut-down, the abandoned park still gets its fair share of visitors — and here’s why.
Looking At What Could Have Been
If one thought that Wonderland Amusement Park was haunting, the remains of Sino Wonderland look as though they were brought straight out of the zombie apocalypse. With a mishmash of rusted traditional statues and temple-like structures in one section, some might feel like they are in an Indiana Jones movie.
However, most of the park resembles what Disneyland would look like in a movie like The Omega Man. Rusted roller coasters that have never been activated sit forlornly near a sad swing ride that never got the chance to amuse anyone. The bizarreness of it all attracts hundreds of urban explorers every year, and unless they demolish it, Sino Wonderland will only look more haunted in the years to come.
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