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This Man Documents China’s Hauntingly Beautiful Abandoned Places

From shared bike graveyards to abandoned shopping malls and derelict spacecraft, Beijing-based ‘Greg Abandoned’ is exploring China’s forgotten places

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Apr 30, 2022 4 mins read

There is something genuinely fascinating about abandoned places, where the chatter, laughter, and angst of everyday life has vanished (or, in some cases, never materialized), casting a shadow of solitude over a location and opening the door for nature to reclaim it.

In the social media age, accounts dedicated to abandoned settings have found a curious and passionate audience, from the famous urban exploration (urbex) community on Instagram @itsabandoned to the remarkable success of ghost town-focused social media accounts such as Ghost Town Living, a YouTube account with more than 1.4 million followers that showcases the adventures of a man living alone in an abandoned California mining town.

Beijing-based ‘Greg Abandoned’ is our favorite of the myriad modern-day explorers visiting and documenting our planet’s forgotten places. His popular Instagram account @gregabandoned boasts an incredible selection of photographs documenting deserted spots across China and Asia, from derelict shopping malls, hotels, and Starbucks to abandoned spacecraft, airplanes, military hardware, and facilities of heavy industry.

Greg Abandoned

Photo courtesy of Greg Abandoned

Greg, who does not provide his family name for media interviews, arrived in the coastal city of Qingdao, China, from the UK in August 2018, after getting divorced and growing disillusioned with the political polarization in Britain.

“Leaving England was a culmination of many things — mainly my divorce and the political situation in England. I felt a little bit unwanted, so I decided it was a good chance to try something else,” Greg tells RADII from Beijing, where he relocated last year. “I wasn’t specifically looking at China, but I got a job here.”

In the spring before his move to Qingdao, Greg and a friend visited the abandoned city of Pripyat, Ukraine, located in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone — a largely uninhabited area surrounding the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster. The destination is popular among intrepid tourists and urban explorers, and the ghostly, frozen-in-time cityscape left a massive impression on the now 37-year-old.

“When I was there in Chernobyl, standing on top of a building in Pripyat looking out over the trees, it was a life-changing moment — I realized I wanted to find more places like this,” says Greg. “So, I started exploring, and ultimately, I decided to go to another part of the world and see what abandoned places I could find there.”

China, of course, was that landing place. Prior to his arrival, Greg updated the handle of his personal Instagram account to @gregabandoned, a change that signified his newfound commitment to documenting forgotten locations.

Photo courtesy of Greg Abandoned

Photo courtesy of Greg Abandoned

Since touching down, he has been prolific (to say the least) in documenting China’s abandoned spaces, traversing the world’s third-largest country (by land area) to visit forgotten temples, uninhabited boom-and-bust resource towns, and a myriad of other spots that would comfortably fit in an urban explorer’s wet dream.

When speaking to Greg about his work, there is no doubt he is passionate about exploring and documenting locations outside of society’s unrelenting focus on progress. The online urbex community has also taken note, and Greg’s Instagram account now boasts an impressive 108,000 followers.

“When I came to China and started exploring here, my Instagram essentially exploded. Because suddenly, I was posting pictures of places that no one in the West had seen before,” he says.

Photo courtesy of Greg Abandoned

Photo courtesy of Greg Abandoned

But Greg is fully aware that social media can be a superficial beast and that many netizens simply gawk at his spellbinding photography before moving on — robbed of the stories and context behind each image. This passion for the stories behind the photos and a desire to document his China adventures for posterity has led Greg to embark on several additional projects, including a podcast and a soon-to-be-released book.

Photo courtesy of Greg Abandoned

Photo courtesy of Greg Abandoned

In 2020, he launched Chasing Bandos, a storytelling podcast where he chats with other explorers about their shared passion for urbex. As part of the program, he also releases mini-series that cover topics ranging from Chernobyl to North Korea to the Soviet Buran spacecraft.

“It’s a podcast that explores the stories behind the pictures, that goes behind the scenes of the urbex videos or pictures seen online. It allows listeners to learn about the explorers behind these images,” Greg tells RADII, noting that he will be launching a mini-series this summer on the history of urbex, interviewing exciting characters from the community.

An abandoned Soviet Buran spacecraft at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Photo courtesy of Greg Abandoned

Abandoned Soviet Buran spacecraft at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Photo courtesy of Greg Abandoned

His other project, which RADII has been lucky enough to get a sneak peek of, is the first in a three-volume book series titled Abandoned China.

“When I leave China, and I look back on my experiences here, I wanted to know that I achieved something, and that’s how the idea of the book came about,” says Greg.

Originally intended to be a single book, Greg quickly realized he had way too much material to realistically include in one edition once he began writing.

“Originally, I was trying to include everything in this book. But as I was writing the second chapter, I realized the book was becoming too big,” he says, adding jokingly, “If I didn’t break it up, you’d have to go to the gym to be able to lift it.”

Aptly titled Abandoned China: Book One, the first volume is a collection of stunning images and vivid storytelling, focusing on derelict power plants, industrial facilities, planes, trains, ships, and, among other abandoned places and objects, an impressive 62-meter-tall Long March rocket. This last site is likely a favorite of the explorer, as he notes that space-related locations and equipment are his favorite.

Photo courtesy of Greg Abandoned

Photo courtesy of Greg Abandoned

Greg tells us that the second book will cover his adventures through abandoned ghost towns, hospitals, schools, theaters, hotels, and movie sets, while volume three will explore China’s seemingly endless roster of abandoned theme parks.

In both Abandoned China: Book One and on Greg’s Instagram account, one thing that comes across clearly is his commitment to secrecy, enshrined in something you could call the ‘urbex code.’ Namely, he never reveals the locations of the spots he profiles in an effort to protect them from vandalism. He notes that the only exception is when it comes to places that have already been torn down.

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Abandoned China: Book One’ goes on sale on May 3, 2022, on Amazon and his publisher’s website.

All images courtesy of Greg Abandoned

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