China's copycat architecture boasts 'we can do this'

For the past few decades, China has been replicating — almost brick-for-brick — many of the West's iconic architectural gems, including such iconic buildings as the Sydney Opera House, the White House and the Eiffel Tower.

Replicas made of Eiffel Tower, White House and an entire Austrian town

Hallstatt See is a replica of the scenic Austrian mountain village of Hallstatt, located in Boluo county in Huizhou City, in Guangdong province. A Chinese developer copied the village right down to its statues and European-style houses. (Vincent Yu/Associated Press)

For the past few decades, China has been replicating — almost brick-for-brick — many of the West's iconic architectural gems, including such iconic buildings as the Sydney Opera House, the White House in Washington and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

In some cases, Chinese architects have re-created entire communities, including the Venetian water-town near Hangzhou, British village replica Thames Town, located near Shanghai, and Hallstatt See, a copy of the Austrian town of Hallstatt in Guangdong province. At one point, there was even a plan for a Canadian "Maple Town" as one of 10 planned satellite communities near Shanghai.

These aren't theme parks, however, since people actually live in these communities. They believe their choice of specialty town lends a certain level of status or sophistication.

Bianca Bosker, author of Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China, began noticing these copycat towns about 10 years ago and wondered what was going on.

"China has an incredibly rich architectural tradition all its own. Why would local officials be deciding to embrace special architecture so enthusiastically?" she noted during an interview with CBC’s Q cultural affairs show.

A woman adjusts her wedding gown for photos near a replica of the Eiffel Tower raised near Beijing. (Alexander F. Yuan/Associated Press)

On a trip to China to research her book, Bosker discovered at least two dozen such developments and spoke to the officials and developers who created them. The New York-based author concluded that creating these duplicates was a way of showing off China’s newfound mastery of building techniques and adoption Western ways.

"By showing that it's making it big, China has turned to faking it big," she said. "I think that it’s important to recognize that by recreating Paris, China isn’t paying homage to France. Its celebrating China’s own successes."

Bosker, also the executive technology editor at Huffington Post, said she believes China is showing it is "so powerful, it can create these monuments of the West on its own soil."