Since China began it’s Great Leap Forward following centuries of humiliating cowings, the nation has become a pioneer in the art of knock offs in an attempt to catch up with the rest of the world. Of course, we all know the standard fare of what this entails, namely Louis Vuitton bags and Versace sunglasses, leaden children’s toys, and even fake Apple stores. Now China has extended its tracing paper to cover even more ground, constructing complete copy-cat towns of some of the world’s most famous cities, co-opting tourism into one convenient location. Want to travel the world? Just go to China!
Not nearly as monumental as the originals, mind you, but still impressive in their scope, these replica towns are a true marvel of industrial and economic ambitions. These towns are remarkable yet completely unoriginal, unlike the comical miniatures erected specially for dwarves – arguable China’s greatest addition to the world since Sun Yat Sen’s warfare bible The Art of War. Rather, these ostentatious copies contain smatterings of the originals to draw not only tourism but also permanent residents who want to carve out a life a la The Truman Show.
British architect Tony Mackay was commissioned to design the replica of Thames Town, which many Chinese relish for its locational convenience and European feel. Mackay, however, is unsettled by the town’s aesthetics, feeling that it doesn’t look “quite right” because those who constructed his designs did so from a palette of styles, resulting in a veritable witches’ brew of architecture.
But why the obsession with producing replicas anyway? In fact, the copycat culture so synonymous with China is a longstanding one, with evidence dating as far back as the Qin Dynasty.
China’s first ruling dynasty would commission replicas of palaces of its conquered rivals to be built near the capital, a tradition that continued along successive dynasties. So copying wasn’t and isn’t necessarily either a shiesty nut grab nor an expression of flattery, but rather an assertion of dominance and power:
China can produce exactly what everyone else can, down to every painstaking tedium of detail.
The culture’s use of art as a vehicle for power assertion is not predicated on originality, though of course China used to be a pioneer in the realm of the original, especially warfare. But originality stands for little in the way of architecture and art, because China has no specific laws to protect architectural design. Only artistic merits are protected by law, whereas the combined functional and artistic qualities of architecture together leave the profession in an all too ambiguous gray zone of legality. Chinese law conveniently ignores the improbable separation of these two forms in architecture, allowing designers to licitly cherry pick from the world’s most revered buildings to use for its own.
But when it comes down to brass tax, we don’t really need to care why China’s counterfeit cities came to fruition or that they look like a model fit for the opening of a Mr. Roger’s episode. No, there is a much more terrifying plan in action here, dear readers. China is not just taking over the world, it is literally taking in the world. Best to start learning Mandarin now, because the new Hallstatt is not going to be speaking Austrian, I can assure you of that.