China loves its copycat towns: from a replica of Shakespeare’s home to the boulevards of Paris
The planned replicas of Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon to be built in southeast China are the latest in a long line of Chinese replica tourist towns that have attracted a mixture of amusement and derision worldwide.
Local authorities have promised that this town will be “authentic” and therefore different from the dodgy Chinese replicas that have been previously mocked, including a copy of London’s Tower Bridge in Suzhou with a motorway running through the middle.
But why are uncanny tourist towns so common in China?
In the past decade, China has seen an unprecedented boom in foreign and domestic travel which has seen tourists flocking to virtually every imaginable destination around the world.
The growth is so staggering that China will account for a quarter of international tourism by 2030, according to the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute.
But for now, domestic tourism continues to be a popular choice since only 8.7 per cent of the Chinese population currently hold passports, according to data from China’s Ministry of Public Security.
Domestic travel alone contributed 9.13 trillion yuan (US$1.3 trillion) to China’s gross domestic product in 2017, figures from the China National Tourism Administration show, making the industry a major driver of Chinese economic growth.
For those that cannot travel abroad for whatever reason, a cottage industry has sprung up to offer clones of world-famous landmarks and even entire towns. Here, we take a look at some of them.
This picture-perfect Austrian market town, complete with its own medieval church, is actually a luxury housing development on the outskirts of a city in the southern province of Guangdong.
Costing state developers 6 billion yuan to construct, the detailed replica is visited by thousands of tourists per day. The 1 million square metre site is also a popular spot for wedding photos due to its charming European feel and traditional gabled wooden houses.
Construction of the replica began in 2007 and is still ongoing, but the sky-high cost attracted lots of controversy when the project was first announced.
Far from the sweltering subtropical climate of southern China, the original lakeside town in Austria was built in the 16th century and is a designated Unesco World Heritage Site.
Florentia Village, Tianjin
A designer fashion outlet sitting outside the northern megacity of Tianjin has been designed to look like a miniature version of Renaissance-era Florence, complete with canals and bridges.
The 200,000 square metre site (2.1 million square feet), built by an Italian developer, contains Italian-inspired architecture that houses a string of luxury stores.
The project cost 1 billion yuan to construct, and was opened in 2011. It is only 20 minutes from Beijing via high-speed railway.
A gated community near Hangzhou in the eastern province of Zhejiang is home to a 12 square mile replica of Paris, including a clone of the Eiffel Tower which is only a third of the original’s height.
The area in Tianducheng estate contains Parisian style architecture and landscaping, even down to a careful replica of the Champs-Élysées.
There are also replicas of elegant 19th century Haussmann apartment buildings which line the streets of the French capital and has been featured in the music video for British electronic producer Jamie xx’s song Gosh.
There is one key difference between the replica and the original, though: restaurants in Tianducheng mainly serve traditional Chinese food, according to a French photographer who visited the area.
Fairy tale castles in Chongqing
Huashengyuan Golden Cake Dream Kingdom is, believe it or not, the name of a tourist attraction outside the megacity of Chongqing that contains several replicas of European fairy tale castles.
Built by eccentric millionaire Liu Chonghua, who is the chief executive of a baked goods company, the multimillion-yuan development takes its inspiration both from Disney movies such as Aladdin as well as real castles such as Windsor Castle, one of Queen Elizabeth’s main residences.
There is also a replica of Neuschwanstein, near Munich in Germany – itself a 19th century fantasy built for Bavaria’s “mad king” Ludwig II.
Liu told Agence France-Presse in 2013 that he would never stop building his dream castles, despite quarrels with local authorities over his outlandish building project.
This impressive recreation of the Italian city – complete with canals – lies in the port city of Dalian in China’s far northeast.
The 5 billion yuan project in the city’s Donggang business district features more than 200 Italian style buildings lining 4km (2½ miles) of man-made canals.
But the real Venice contains more than 150 canals totalling 26 miles in length, linking the city’s 118 small islands.
Local officials have welcomed the waterways as an alternative transport method that produces less pollution.
The attraction opened in 2016, and even provides gondola rides for tourists.
While Chengdu is most famous for its giant pandas and spicy cuisine, it is also home to a copycat of the southern English town of Dorchester, the former home of the novelist Thomas Hardy.
Construction on the development known as “British Town” began in 2005.
Inside are replicas of the Georgian and Victorian high streets of the market town, including replica stores.
The project was reportedly inspired by a Christmas card sent to one of the town planners that featured a picture of Dorchester’s town centre.
The development now houses around 200,000 people.