Stolen Architecture: China's Fake Cities

What do you do if you are a country basking in the afterglow of a period of rapid economic growth? If you’re China, you might want to start spending all of your money. And what better way to spend money than by copying the remarkable architecture and tremendous landscapes of cities that have already proven to be successful, beautiful and popular tourist attractions?

With a population of 1.3 billion, China needs cities, and lots of them. Although China has some remarkable cities of its own, each with their own rich culture and history and signature style of architecture, in recent years China seems to have become attracted to the idea of building entire cities that resemble famous cities from other parts of the world. If visitors feel like visiting New York, picturesque England or a quaint Austrian town but don’t want to visit three different countries to do so, they can just go to China, where talented architects (with a very keen eye for detail) have duplicated the look and feel of some of the world’s most famous cities.  These copycat cities are complete with their signature landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and London Bridge.

Of course, there are some technical limits to cloning cities. Upon closer inspection, visitors to the “Chinese Paris” might notice that things aren’t quite right: proportions of the streets, buildings and famous structures are different than the original, and certainly building materials aren’t always the same in China as they are elsewhere. But just like wandering into a theme park or a detailed film set, the areas still manage to maintain some look and feel of the original city, thanks to attention to detail and designers that managed to copy even the smallest of details from the original cities such as balconies, fountains and even phone booths.

Not all foreign architects are taking the news of their work or the famous and historical landmarks in their beloved cities being copied very well: some foreign architects have even tried to take legal action against Chinese developers. Nonetheless, these charming (and very out-of-place) cityscapes provide a unique conversation topic for people in both China and abroad. Not to mention, they make for an attention-grabbing backdrop in photos by Chinese tourists who might not otherwise be able to travel to the real city.

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6 Thames in Songjiang New City, near Shanghai

The phenomenon of copying foreign cities is especially notable around the metropolis of Shanghai. The city has actually encouraged developers to create copies of famous cities in a project called “One City, Nine Towns.” Complete with cobbled streets lined with Tudor houses, Victorian balconies, a pub and a fish and chip restaurant and even a clock tower, the Thames district is like something out of a British storybook. There’s a statue of Winston Churchill in this district and it even has the trademark red telephone booths that are so iconic to Britain.  The Thames Town area is relatively green and has gardens, unlike a lot of busy Chinese cities.  However, many who bought the homes in this area purchased them as second homes rather than primary residences.  Therefore, this relatively new area is already a bit like a ghost town.

5 Hallstatt, Austria in Huizhou City, Guangdong province

Hallstatt, a picturesque village in the Austrian Alps that is a Unesco World Heritage Site, now has a clone situated in Guangdong province, China. The original village in Austria proved to be an attractive candidate for a Chinese developer to create a copy of it a few years ago. The Chinese version of Hallstatt is complete with a marketplace, a charming church, Baroque fountain, Holy Trinity sculpture and attractive timber houses. When the Chinese town was first revealed a couple of years ago, some residents of the original location in Austria were upset since nobody who was a part of the Chinese development ever asked their permission. Since then, the idea has grown on the Austrians and Hallstatt’s mayor has visited the doppelganger city and taken part in a friendship ceremony between the two towns.

4 Manhattan in Tianjin City

Who needs a 15th century fishing village when you can have Manhattan? At least that’s what Chinese developers might have thought when they bulldozed the way for a replica of Manhattan in a saltwater marsh in the port city of Tianjin. The city project, which is not yet complete, intends to rival the Big Apple in size and financial importance. The city will feature Rockefeller and Lincoln centers and a high-speed railway station. There will even be the Hudson River lacing through the city. Workers are currently building dozens of skyscrapers in the image of the original Manhattan skyline (although there aren’t – yet – quite as many as the original).

3 Paris, aka. Tianducheng, Hangzhou, Zhejiang province

Arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Paris proved to be too tempting to resist for one Chinese developer. One of the most iconic and recognizable structures in the world, the Eiffel Tower, looms over this Chinese version of Paris. Tianducheng copied the City of Lights’ trademark architecture, complete with white buildings, wrought iron Juliet balconies and pleasing fountains. Unfortunately, the Chinese Paris didn’t prove to be quite as popular as the original: only about 2,000 people live there, despite the fact the city development has room to house around 10,000. This means that the Chinese Paris resembles a ghost town and has sadly become little more than a pretty backdrop for wedding photographs, surrounded by farmland.

2 London Bridge in Suzhou, Jiangsu province 

London Bridge is falling down… in China? An almost identical version of the storied English landmark can be found in Suzhou, China. The only differences are that the Chinese version actually has twice as many towers, although the mechanism that allows the original London version of the bridge to rise up does not exist in the Chinese variation.

1 American-style mansions in the Rose Garden development near Shanghai

Not quite a copy of an American town per se, the Rose Garden development outside of Shanghai seems to aim to copy an ideal American lifestyle. The development will feature hundreds of mansions that will go on the market for millions of dollars apiece. The mansions are copies of American and French-style architecture, similar to mansions one might see in Beverly Hills.

It appears as though “the American dream” has reached China. In a similar vein, other developments near Shanghai copy an American feel of architecture, such as the Regency Park development with “villas” that have private gardens and pleasant tree-lined streets.

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