Five Chinese Towns That Are Strangely Familiar
Some places in China have a really un-Chinese feeling to them, like they’ve been transported from elsewhere in the world. Dropped in the middle of what is unmistakably China, you might find a replica Leaning Tower of Pisa or run into the kind of guard usually found outside Buckingham Palace.
There’s a bit of a trend in China for recreating overseas places. Sometimes it’s just one building — leading to occasional lawsuits about “architectural piracy” — and sometimes it’s a deliberately orchestrated bid to turn one place into quite another. The phenomenon has been given a name, “duplitecture,” coined by Bianca Bosker in her book Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China. (She also coined the term “simulacrascapes,” which is both hard to say and looks like it has the word “crap” in it, even though it doesn’t.)
It’s hard to know what to make of it. The German magazine Der Spiegel has compared it to China’s reputation for producing counterfeit handbags and knockoff cellphones, but it’s arguably more interesting than that, a weird surreal postmodern remixing of cities that creates bizarre forceful collisions between new and old. Is it the 21st-century version of the Roman- and Greek-style architecture that Britain and America were obsessed with in the 18th century? Or, yeah, it is just a big ripoff and proof there are no new ideas?
Hard to say!
Jackson Hole, the Chinese Wyoming
Located an hour and half from central Beijing, Jackson Hole is a 1,000-home development built in 2009 and intended to resemble Jackson, Wyoming as much as possible. Also known as Hometown USA, the American-ness of it all was the main selling point — while the idea of having a summer home or vacation spot on the coast is pretty popular in the States, it doesn’t mean as much in China, so the whole thing was presented as a bit of an exotic novelty.
The developers, the incredibly-named Beijing Resplendency Great Exploit Real Estate Company, looked at several other vacation spots in the U.S. to try to recreate, including Vail and Martha’s Vineyard, before settling on Jackson. The development was an instant hit — they built a sample home in Beijing and invited Americanophiles to check it out, and the whole estate sold out and has since tripled in price. There are extra touches too, like security guards that patrol the development dressed as cowboys. And, not far away is Ju Jun, which translates as “Orange County” and recreates Newport Beach’s townhouses. As the developer told the L.A. Times: “I had two requirements. From the perspective of taste, it was designed to appeal to women. And functionally, it’s designed for lazy people.”
Hallstatt, the Chinese Austria
The original Hallstatt is a small town in Austria, constantly deluged by tourists eager to absorb its olde-worlde charm and deep history. It was originally settled in Neolithic times, and is one of the most significant archeological sites in the region, leading to its status as a World Heritage Site. The Hallstatt in China, also known as Hallstatt II, was built by a steel company and contains incredibly accurate replicas of many of the original’s landmarks, including its church and most of its town center.
It was unveiled in 2012, having taken a year to build. The authorities in the original Hallstatt only learned about the unofficial Chinese tribute version when it was nearly completed, and while some were far from thrilled due to the presence of spelling mistakes and some size discrepancies, the two Hallstatts now have an amicable international relationship. In fact, the Austrian town’s website was updated to say “Hallstatt: the original. Photographed millions of times, copied once, never equaled.”
Tianducheng, the Chinese Paris
Paris is one of those places everyone wants to visit at some point, but it’s a hell of a long way from China. Handily, in 2007 a greatest-hits version of it was built in outer Hangzhou, one of the country’s easternmost cities. There’s an Eiffel Tower, a Champs-Élysées, the fountains from Luxembourg Gardens and many more.
However, it took a while to win people over — thanks in part to its inconvenient location quite far out of the city, six years after it was built only abut 2,000 people lived there out of a planned 10,000. Eventually, though, it not only filled up but expanded — the area now houses around 30,000 quasi-Parisians. But unlike the real Paris, it has no bars, something which has surprised French visitors.
Dalian, the Chinese Venice
China’s answer to the most romantic city in the world can be found in the coastal town of Dalian, packed with human-made canals and European architecture. Gondoliers in traditional blue-and-white striped jerseys and red neckerchiefs paddle young couples around, giving them a Venetian experience while saving them the air fare.
One resident told NBC News of the half-billion dollar development: “This is an opportunity for people who could not go abroad to enjoy the same scenery as that in foreign countries, and expand their visions to know more about foreign customs and practices. This is really good.”
Thames Town, the Chinese London
In 2001, a plan was announced in Shanghai called “One City, Nine Towns.” This involved suburbs being reimagined as pastiches of different areas from across the globe — a Scandinavian one, a Dutch one, a Spanish one, a Canadian one and so on. The British area, Thames Town, features a statue of Winston Churchill, along with red phone boxes, a pub, a fish and chip shop and exact replicas of reasonably obscure British landmarks — a specific church from Bristol and a specific cross from Chester are recreated.
As the Guardian’s architecture critic, who described the whole endeavor as “a grotesque and extremely funny parody” put it, “Built from scratch in little over three years, the £200m project encompasses five centuries of British architecture.” Most properties were bought as investments rather than to live in, and today Thames Town is primarily used as a backdrop for wedding photos, a town that does it for the ‘gram and not much more.