About 54 percent of China's 1.4 billion people now live in cities, and Beijing has set a target of 60 percent by 2020. City dwellers earn and spend more, which is critical as China shifts to consumption-led growth instead of manufacturing.
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Wang's view is more bearish than some of his property industry peers who see the benefits of urbanization lasting longer. Yu Liang, president of China's biggest residential developer,China Vanke, said in May that the "golden era" was over although migration to cities would boost the industry for another 15 years.
The number of people moving to cities has slowed to 17 or 18 million annually, down from 20 million at the peak, said Tang Wang, a China economist at UBS in Hong Kong. A big obstacle for workers wanting to move to cities from the countryside is that the government restricts the number of people who can obtain "hukou" residency benefits such as affordable housing and schooling in metropolitan areas.
"It's not really about people going to the city but people staying in the city," Tang said.
In the boom years, Dalian Wanda opened malls primarily in fast-growing provincial cities instead of focusing on Shanghai and Beijing. Close ties with local governments helped Wang obtain cheap land for malls, and he expanded quickly.
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Dubbed "Nouveau Riche Plaza" by netizens, Wanda Plazas - which typically house a cinema, children's arcade, karaoke bar and hypermarket - are dominated by premium local and mid-tier international fashion brands.
A 27 percent drop in first-half 2014 revenue illustrates why Dalian Wanda is keen to change course now. The company blamed fewer project completions and lower selling prices, a symptom of China's weakening property market.
"This path (of rapid expansion) cannot be sustained," Wang said. "China's land resources, China's fiscal resources and China's markets won't be able to support it."
In the hope of luring more middle-class consumers, Dalian Wanda is investing 325 billion yuan ($53 billion) in upscale entertainment and tourist-focused facilities, including mega projects called Wanda Cities, to be opened in the next few years.