China has a newly-affluent middle class, in constant search for models to showcase their newly found fortunes. In China, mimicry is seen as a form of mastery and is often encouraged, unlike in the west.
China has not only copied famous architectural marvels from around the world but sometimes entire cities. The ‘duplicature’ development has been criticized and admired at the same time. The locals tend to admire a western looking neighborhood and want to invest in a real estate property that looks exactly like their aspirational cities. However, some locals feel that China’s rich architectural heritage is forgotten in the process.
Duplicature as a trend emerged in the 1990s. The opportunity to live in housing that represents the historic grandeur of the west is an appealing prospect to many Chinese citizens who can now afford to become part of an urban elite.
Let’s look into 10 Copy Towns of western cities in China.
1. Paris, France inspired Tianducheng
Tianducheng, also known as Sky City, houses a replica of Eiffel tower, is developed to look like Paris. The development is surrounded by farmlands and remains sparsely populated. The large streets inspired by Paris remain virtually empty. One can find ornate fountains and statues along the streets.
2. Interlaken, Switzerland inspired Overseas Chinese Town East (OCT)
OCT has several different theme parks like Knight Valley, Wind Valley, and Tea Stream Valley. It houses a man-made lake and the entire district is modeled after Interlaken in Switzerland.
3. Florence, Italy inspired Tianjin
Inspired from Florence in Italy, the town has fountains, canals, and mosaics very similar to the original town. It is a popular shopping street with the presence of high-end brands like Gucci, Prada, etc.
4. London, England inspired Suzhou
Suzhou houses a remarkably accurate copy of London’s tower bridge. The replica however lacks a raising mechanism to allow boats to pass underneath. The bridge acts as a connection between various London-themed temporary structures. It is a popular destination for wedding photography. However, the area is known for many more things other than the replica of London’s Tower Bridge. It also accommodates its own Sydney Harbour Bridge and Alexandre III Bridge. There is also a presence of Dutch Town with windmills and Dutch-style housing in Suzhou.
5. Hallstatt, Austria inspired Guangdong
Hallstatt is a UNESCO world heritage site. Guangdong is a replica of Hallstatt with its church clock tower, European-style wooden houses, and other properties that will be sold to investors. Disney-themed photo spots are scattered around the village’s main plaza. It aims to become a new Tourist attraction. A few Hallstatt residents consider it a bad idea to copy their town and it stands for their unique culture and traditions. And, no copy can be true to their heritage.
6. Manhattan, USA inspired Tianjin
With its own Rockefeller Centre and Twin Towers, Tianjin remained unfinished and unattractive to buyers. Most parts of the development have been left abandoned and gathering dust. The faux-Manhattan is prone to flooding from storm surges and heavy rain.
7. Thames Town, England inspired Songiang
Songiang accommodates a town with cobbled streets, Victorian terraces, corner shops, and red-telephone boxes inspired by the developments around Thames River in London. Although the houses sold rapidly, most purchases were investments or second homes to the wealthy. The proportions of owners taking up permanent residence were low.
- Thames Town, England inspired Songiang ©Huai-Chun Hsu
8. Amsterdam, Netherlands inspired Pudong
Pudong accommodates Holland Town, which is a pastiche village made of Dutch stereotypes pulled from Amsterdam and the Kattenbroek neighborhood of Amersfoort. It has canals and windmills. Exact replicas of the Maritime Museum and the Bijenkorf department store in Amsterdam can be found here. It is currently a ghost town.
- Amsterdam, Netherlands inspired Pudong©Sheng Li, Reuters
9. Venice, Italy inspired Dalian
Dalian is a port city in China with a replica of four kilometers of man-made canals and about 200 European-style buildings inspired by Venice. There are gondola rides, with gondoliers dressed up in traditional Venetian costumes. It remains a ghost town despite being a beautiful replica.
10. Sigtuna, Sweden inspired Luodian New Town
Luodian New Town is a product of China’s One City, Nine Towns initiative. Each of the sub-urban districts of Shanghai was assigned a new town, each with its theme. Luodian received a Swedish theme. The center of Luodian town is an artificial lake inspired by Sweden’s LakeMälaren. The business district along the lake is a magnet to people. But the residential developments show little signs of habitation.
With many ‘duplicature’ developments becoming ghost towns, the trend of copy towns is projected to decline. Let’s hope to see China’s lost architectural footing soon rise as a new trend. A trend that locals identify themselves with and speaks of their heritage and culture.