Aspirational Hazard

Tony Law / REDUX FOR TIME

A QUIET PLACE: On a recent Saturday, a man reads under a fake tree at Golden Resources Mall in Beijing

Beijing's golden resources mall ought to be a shopper's paradise. Built on the city's outskirts in 2004, the Art Deco-style center boasts a staggering 6 million sq. ft. (560,000 sq m) of retail space, making it the world's second largest mall, 30% bigger than Minnesota's famed Mall of America, once the largest. Golden Resources accommodates more than 1,000 shops, dozens of restaurants, 230 escalators and an ice-skating rink. On its five floors, you can buy everything from fur coats to exercise equipment to pet supplies.

There's something missing, though: shoppers. On a recent Monday afternoon, despite blazing temperatures...

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