In 2004, Premier Wen Jiabao warned that property developers and local governments across the mainland were succumbing to a 'shopping mall craze'. Two years on, and Beijing's building barons are still in thrall to the mall. Indeed, just three months after Mr Wen's announcement, the Golden Resources Shopping Mall opened in the capital. Swiftly dubbed the 'Great Mall of China', it proudly boasted it was the world's largest. But thanks to a spectacular lack of customers, the 557,420-square-metre mall is more of a white elephant than a shopping paradise. In any case, it swiftly lost its bragging rights to the Mall of Arabia in Dubai, while last year's opening of the South China Mall in Guangdong means Golden Resources is not even the biggest on the mainland any longer. None of which has stopped Beijing's property developers and local officials from using precious public money to construct yet more of these empty monuments to consumerism. The latest one, the Wangjing Mall, opened in mid-August, and there is nothing to distinguish it from the dozen or so other malls scattered across Beijing. Any western visitor to the Wangjing Mall will feel at home. It is big and bright, and the shops and fast-food outlets have comforting names like Nike, Lacoste and Sizzler. The only thing that might puzzle a tourist is the lack of patrons. The mall is so empty you could skateboard from one end to the other without fear of hitting some unsuspecting shopper. In fact, people use Beijing's malls as ad hoc badminton courts. 'We get lots of people coming in here,' says the young woman minding the Calvin Klein store. Yet not on the day I went. At every shop I visit, the assistants outnumber customers, and the only people buying are foreigners. But with a pair of Calvin Klein jeans selling for 1,290 yuan - almost a third of the average monthly salary for a new graduate on the mainland - you do not have to be an economist to work out why locals steer clear. And it does not help that mainlanders prefer to save rather than spend their hard-earned cash. According to the People's Daily, over the last 10 years the Chinese have, on average, spent 60 per cent of their income. In contrast, the global average is 78 per cent. Not even Beijing's property developers like to spend money; they get banks and local governments to fund their grandiose schemes. A few malls get by on trade from tourists and expatriates. Most though are losing money as they wait for the time when the mainland turns into a genuine consumer-driven economy. Until that happens, malls make for a nice day out for couples and groups of girls who like to stroll in peace through an environment free of litter and spitting, while gazing at goods they cannot afford. Welcome to Beijing - world capital of window shopping.