Known as the “Paris of the East”, the luxury real estate development in Zhejiang province was designed to evoke classical European charm. Its residents have their own Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysées main square, French neoclassical-style buildings, a fountain from the Luxembourg Gardens, and the centerpiece of the city: the second largest replica of the Eiffel Tower in the world after the Paris Las Vegas Hotel in Nevada.
When Tianducheng first opened its gates more than a decade ago, it was described as a ghost town. While many of its homes remain vacant, the population has grown into the thousands, and it attracts a steady stream of Chinese and international tourists, including newlyweds looking for a picture-perfect backdrop.
Tianducheng isn’t the only city in China with an uncanny familiarity.
On the outskirts of Beijing, a replica of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is outfitted with cowboys and a Route 66. Red telephone booths, pubs, and statues of Winston Churchill pepper the corridors of Shanghai’s Thames Town. The city of Fuzhou is constructing a replica of Stratford-upon-Avon in tribute to Shakespeare, Fuyang built their own U.S. Capitol building, and the Austrian UNESCO World Heritage town of Hallstatt has a second home in Guangdong.
“Entire townships and villages appear to have been airlifted from their historical and geographical foundations in England, France, Greece, the United States, and Canada and spot-welded to the margins of Chinese cities,” according to Bianca Bosker, author of Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China.
Bosker refers to this phenomenon as “duplitecture.” While critics argue that these sites are nothing more than kitschy knockoffs, the Chinese architects behind them believe their ability to recreate the world's greatest architectural marvels is a testament to their skill and technological advancement.
Socialist Core Values
“While it once considered itself to be the center of the world, now China is making itself into the center that actually contains the world,” according to Bosker.
Visitors can now see authentic cultural icons like the Great Wall and Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor alongside a mini Versailles or Paris in the same trip–but the government is pushing back against the proliferation of these Western facsimiles.
During an ongoing Chinese geographical survey, officials found that traditional Chinese names were being replaced by foreign ones or disappearing altogether, including more than 400,000 village names. According to the New York Times, a regulation in China has prohibited the use of foreign monikers for locations since 1996 as a means to protect cultural heritage, but has had little effect.
"[China will] stem irregularities in naming the country’s roads, bridges, buildings, and residential compounds, targeting arbitrary uses of foreign and bizarre names”, Civil Affairs Minister Li Liguo said. “Certain types of names will be targeted, including names that damage sovereignty and national dignity, names that violate the socialist core values and conventional morality.”
So while Tianducheng's marble statues, ornate fountains, and geometrical gardens might resemble the City of Light—just don't call it Paris.