Datong has for decades been known as China’s ‘coal capital’. In 2008 Mayor Geng Yanbo redeveloped Datong’s city centre in order to hide the coal stigma and redefine the city’s identity based on its cultural heritage as a centre for Buddhist historical sites and ancient architecture. The project was interrupted in 2013 when the mayor was promoted to another city. In parallel, the coal industry was impacted by restructuring, falling prices, and stricter environmental policies. The interrupted project opened a liminal space between demolition and construction. This article studies unfinishedness and ruination in Datong after the construction boom by following the last residents living within the interrupted project. Drawing on fieldwork carried out between 2015 and 2019 that records the discourses and socio-spatial practices of the last remaining residents, stuck between chai (demolition) and qian (relocation), it sheds light on their urban experiences as city dwellers in a landscape of ruins and unfinished architecture. The suspension of urban construction affects both these residents’ representations of the urban space and their ambivalent feelings towards the past, present and future, opening new perspectives for research on the urbanity of booms and busts in Chinese cities.
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