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A tour of European-themed ghost cities of China

Images of hundreds of empty apartment buildings in new Chinese urban areas have generated worldwide fascination in the country's so-called ghost cities in recent years.

Independent journalist and "Ghost Cities of China" author Wade Shepard said Friday there is indeed a plan to turn these unpopulated metropolises into living, breathing civic centers—some of which have European-themed feels to them.

China's policy is "'we'll build it and we'll make them come,'" said Shepard, who has been traveling to China's ghost cities for two years.

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Chinese authorities have been building these new cities for about 10 years, and the biggest challenge once they're completed is moving in industries and getting them to function like real urban areas.

"A lot of times what China will do is they'll move in universities, they'll move in state-owned enterprises, state-owned businesses, and banks just to get an economic pulse going," Shepard told CNBC "Squawk Box" in an interview. "Once that happens people do start to come in, because when new residential properties come on the market, they sell very fast in China."

As for those new Chinese cities that replicate European villages, Shepard said the imitation is largely a marketing strategy. He's taken numerous photos of these cities in his travels.

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Arc de Triomphe replica at the New South China Mall
Source: Wade Shepard
Arc de Triomphe replica at the New South China Mall
A Scandinavian-themed town in Luodian in Baoshan District District, Shanghai
Source: Wade Shepard
A Scandinavian-themed town in Luodian in Baoshan District District, Shanghai
A town with a German feel in Anting in Jiading District, Shanghai
Source: Wade Shepard
A town with a German feel in Anting in Jiading District, Shanghai
A British themed Thames Town in Songjiang District, Shanghai
Source: Wade Shepard
A British themed Thames Town in Songjiang District, Shanghai

"A lot of these new cities are in competition with each other," he said. "They really go for monumentalization. A lot of these are the local governments' pet projects, and they want them to get attention, so they build them to be different, to be extreme."

To be sure, some of the cities will fail, Shepard said. That could be a problem because, according to Shepard, their construction has become financially essential to local governments.

"At one point land sales alone were accounting for roughly 40 percent of some municipal governments' total revenue," he said.

While speculators hoping to flip the properties at a higher price account for a significant percentage of buyers, many of the new homes are snatched up by new families, Shepard said.

About 30 percent of new housing is purchased by people expecting to be married, he added.

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