At first, Smith wondered about the appeal of such a quintessentially American locale to wealthy Chinese vacationers. Many of the residents I spoke with said they first visited the resort town out of curiosity, but were quickly charmed by its sprawling homes and the developers' description of cowboy culture and its independent ethos. "Cowboys stand for a simpler way of life and freedom without restraint," said one resident, a retired lawyer. "Those are traditional Chinese values as well, but very difficult to come by in Beijing." Others said Jackson Hole's stark contrast with urban China provides the best kind of weekend escape -- a chance to travel to exotic America without ever having to leave the country.
In 2009, Zhang and five of his colleagues flew to the original Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for the first time. The group rented a van in Jackson Hole and drove to Teton Village, and then north to Yellowstone National Park. But the even while visiting the real American West, Zhang felt as if he'd seen it all before.
"The mountains were very beautiful," Zhang said. "But everything else, well, it was pretty much the same as ours."