China is no stranger to replicas. They are a country known for their skillfully made knock-offs: from designer clothes and accessories to phones and seemingly everything in between. But perhaps the most ambitious of all their copying is the reproduction of an entire village. If you’re traveling to China anytime soon, make sure to check out Austria.
In 2012, a Chinese mining tycoon completed a near exact replica of Hallstatt, Austria in Luoyang, China. As you might expect, reproducing the cobble stone streets, gabled homes, and historic churches of a picturesque UNESCO World Heritage site is no cheap job; the Chinese clone cost roughly $940 million to make.
However, according to most Western visitors, despite all the money that was poured into this project, the architects and engineers were unable to capture the true essence and authenticity of the prototypical, postcard-worthy European city—a city that has over centuries of history. Some have even claimed that Hallstatt, China has a pastiche to it that is reminiscent of the movie the Truman Show.
But just because it doesn’t feel like an authentic European city to Westerners, doesn’t mean it’s a failure in the eyes of China. In fact, this Western need for authenticity in architecture is something that hasn’t permeated the minds of Chinese architects and developers.
According to Bianca Bosker, author of Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China, copying in China isn’t something that is seen as taboo or kitsch like it is in the West. In China, mimicry is by and large seen as a flattering acknowledgment of mastery.
Because of these contrasting attitudes towards copying, people in China are able to look at the copycat city with sincere eyes. As a result, Hallstatt, China has become a popular destination for Chinese couples taking their wedding photos and also for those who want to experience foreign-style architecture while not having to travel outside of China.
Controversially, when residents of Hallstatt first found out about the cloning of their city, production was already well under way. They had mixed responses to it at first. But now it seems that most of Hallstatt has come to accept their Asian twin and view it as a rare marketing opportunity that could perhaps inspire people to visit the real Hallstatt.
So if you find yourself traveling to China and homesick for Western architecture, travel to the made-in-China version of Hallstatt, and if that doesn’t do the trick stroll over to the replica Eiffel Tower or Roman Coliseum or Stonehenge or Tower Bridge or the White House or the Sphinx or the Canals of Venice or even the Leaning Tower of Pisa.