Chinese tourists may be flocking to Europe in record numbers, but now they can see some of the continent's top historical attractions without ever leaving the People's Republic. The Alpine village of Hallstatt, Austria, (a UNESCO World Heritage site on the picturesque shore of the Hallstätter See) has been re-created in full-scale replica in Boluo, in southern China. Complete with European-style wood houses and the town's signature Roman-numeral clock tower, the made-in-China version of Hallstatt opened this summer for visitors and new residents. The Chinese developers, Minmetals Land Ltd., even got the real mayor of Hallstatt to fly in from Austria to mark the occasion.
Strange as it sounds, the Hallstatt replica is hardly unique in China. The Middle Kingdom is cloning Western monuments, palaces, and entire towns -- often at a frenetic pace and with uncanny accuracy. But why?
American and European commentators -- not to mention residents of the original cities -- are variously amused, indignant, and, above all, puzzled. This is not, however, the first time China has imported Western architecture on a grand scale. Now, as in China's past, imitation isn't intended as flattery. The ancient parallels for these copycat projects suggest that they are not mere follies, but monumental assertions of China's global primacy.
In addition to the wholesale replication of Hallstatt, countless other facsimile cities and monuments have popped up across China -- and more are in the works. Replica British towns near Shanghai and Chengdu, for example, feature Tudor, Georgian, and Victorian architecture complete with quaint market squares and signature red telephone booths. Likewise, a Bauhaus "German Town" near Shanghai designed by Albert Speer, son of the Third Reich's chief architect, boasts bronze statues of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller.
China is also home to several charming Dutch villages, at least two of the world's largest Eiffel Tower replicas, and an opulent copy of the 17th-century Château de Maisons-Laffitte (constructed using the original blueprints and imported French Chantilly stone). More eerily, perhaps, a full-scale, no-expense-spared replica of the White House stands outside Hangzhou, while less exacting copies of the U.S. Capitol, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Sydney Opera House can be found in the village of Huaxi in Jiangsu province and elsewhere. And a long-term project is under way to create a vast financial center at Yujiapu in the municipality of Tianjin based explicitly on Manhattan. The plans even include a Rockefeller Center and twin towers to be built by the Chinese arm of Tishman, the contractor for the original World Trade Center towers in New York.