Only in China can you find pieces of Athens, Amsterdam, New York, London, Venice, and Washington, DC, all within the same national border. The country is littered with the romantic monuments and historic urban centers of world cities, re-created with great accuracy, if not craftsmanship. Thames Town outside of Shanghai conjures interwar Britain, with its array of (mock-) mock-Tudor houses, brick civic centers, and a neo-Gothic church. In Chongqing, a relatively crude copy of the Chrysler Building crowns the central business district.
And then there’s Tianducheng, a new town just outside of Hangzhou that’s prone to fog and grey skies. Ah, Paris! Through the haze you can see mansard roofs, Haussmannian boulevards, and the Champs-Élysées—though rendered as a large square. It all culminates, bien sur, in a 108-meter replica of the Eiffel Tower.
Paris in spring in China was a triumph for developers when completed. But new photos depict the duplicate city to be empty and conspicuously lacking the proverbial lights. Reuters photographer Aly Song recently visited the area and returned with images of the ghost town.
Tianducheng, one of several counterfeit cities built in China’s real estate boom of the past decade, was designed to accommodate a population of 10,000, who were imagined to fill its bâtiments and tree-lined avenues. Instead, like many of the themed towns, residents—namely, the elite and nouveau riche—failed to arrive and complete the vision. Only 2,000 people now call the closed community home.
Like Thames Town and Hallstatt, a wholesale clone of the fairy-tale Austrian hamlet, Tianducheng functions mostly a backdrop for picture taking. Newlyweds pose in front of the Eiffel Tower. It’s the closest you can get to Paris without applying for a visa.
Photos: Reuters/Aly Song