More striking precedents for the copycat cities and palaces are found even earlier in Chinese history. The First Emperor (Qin Shi Huang) is perhaps most famous for the spectacular terra-cotta warriors he commissioned after he unified China in 221 B.C. But the terracotta army that made him famous was not the only grand building project the emperor and his court undertook. Sima Qian, ancient China's premier historian, recorded a remarkable building program pursued by China's first ruling dynasty, the Qin:
Whenever Qin conquered one of its rivals, it would commission replicas of its palaces and halls and reconstruct them on the slope north of the capital, facing south over the river. From Yongmen all the way to the Jing and Wei rivers, there were replica palaces, passages, and walled pavilions, all filled with women, bells, and drums that Qin had taken from them.
The construction of each facsimile palace corresponded directly to the conquest of a specific territory, and exotic new towns in the Qin heartland soon followed, where conquered families from the empire's far reaches were required to resettle. The imitation palaces were the most outlandish spoils of war, reconstructed and presented by proxy to the home audience. They were expressions, in concrete terms, of the Qin's invincibility and inevitable ascendancy.
Modern China's replica palaces and monuments are not built to correspond to military victories, of course. And while the Chinese Hallstatt features a few blond European entertainers, the People's Republic is not filling its imitation towns with real people and historical artifacts from the West. But like the ancient replicas, their modern counterparts are also conspicuous demonstrations of authority and influence on an inconceivably far-reaching scale. Not only has China outstripped Europe's leading economies, but it is now importing, by proxy, its most cherished architectural achievements -- the literal halls of power. This is the new world order made visually and physically manifest.
The First Emperor also commissioned a corollary project to his palaces and pavilions: 12 colossal bronze statues wrought from the melted weapons of his enemies and erected in the capital to represent the vanquished states. Today, China is once again putting bronze statues of foreigners on display to correspond with its imitation cities. Aside from the Schiller and Goethe statues in "German Town," one can find the likenesses of Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, Harry Potter, and James Bond in "Thames Town," and Alexander the Great, Napoleon, and business magnate Jack Welch in Broad Town. Needless to say, there is no violent conquest behind the creation of these modern Chinese monuments and the cities they inhabit. But they and their ancient equivalents represent a dizzyingly grand amalgamation of worldwide political, cultural, and industrial achievement to which China is, by its own understanding and aspiration, heir.
The First Emperor built the greatest superpower in the known world, and he created a monumental vocabulary to articulate this supremacy. Now modern China, consciously or not, is marshaling his symbolic language to convey its burgeoning global primacy. The First Emperor no doubt would have approved wholeheartedly of China's new replica cities and sights, taking special delight, perhaps, in the White House facsimile. And in spite of the legendary scale and precision of his own building ventures, even he might have been impressed by the Chinese Hallstatt.