Westerners oughtn’t to criticize China for its ‘fake cities’

By Onat Kibaroglu Source:Global Times Published: 2017/4/9 18:03:39

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

It's one of those phenomenal but done-to-death topics which Western media outlets often revisit during slow news cycles - the "fake cities" of China. Admittedly, the subject matter is amusing: small towns within the industrialized areas of the country constructed as exact replicas of symbolic European or American cities.

In one of hundreds of reports on the issue, US media channel ABC News offered this comprehensive overview: "Tianducheng is not the only place in China where architecture has been copied from a different country ... In Suzhou, known for its unique architecture and waterways, there are dozens of duplicated bridges, including a version of Paris' Pont Alexandre III and a mutated clone of London's Tower Bridge."

Author Bianca Bosker calls this unique trend "duplitecture." According to her, such cities and landmarks copied over and over again by the Chinese are associated with countries and cultures that symbolize wealth and status.

Bosker stated that "duplitecture developments have become so embedded in parts of Chinese culture that I was surprised to hear that the way to live best was to eat Chinese food, drive an American car and live in a British home."

As much as I personally find this analysis true, I however also believe that there are certain hypocritical elements within the way many Western intellectuals and media approach the duplitecture issue.

We cannot negate history when we ponder stories about China's development. China is certainly not the first country in the world to develop at a breakneck speed, which in turn has created many awkward duplications of settings inspired, modeled or copied from elsewhere.

Many metropolises of the American "New World" were in fact built as nearly exact replicas of their European counterparts. Core neighborhoods within New York's Manhattan Island, for instance, owe their architecture to Mannheim, a historical town south of Germany. The city itself was renamed multiple times too, varying according to whomever wielded power over the last three centuries.

Manhattan, as we know, eventually formed its own unique architectural style to become the central metropolis of the US. But make no mistake - it did indeed start as a European look-alike.

Such copycatting is apparent in other parts of the globe as well. It is, for example, a challenge to try and tell apart the central districts of Buenos Aires (the capital of Argentina) from the Spanish city of Madrid.

Many of China's first foreign-influenced duplitecture quickly became popular among local citizenry, with their photos widely shared on the Interwebs, and thus were further imitated in other parts of the country, essentially copying their own copies, like xeroxing a xerox.

These "fake cities" are just so ridiculously similar to their Western originals that rather than anyone taking them seriously, they turned into residential amusement parks where nouveau riche could take wedding photos and peasants could pose for selfies to trick family members back in the countryside into thinking they'd been abroad.

Fundamentally, the motives of duplitecture developers make perfect sense: if there's a model that works elsewhere, why not recreate it locally? This has happened throughout history everywhere - most ubiquitously any government building with Greek-style colonnades - and will continue to in the coming decades.

We can rightly presume that countries that are currently experiencing unprecedented growth such as those in Southeast Asia and Africa will probably be imitating Chinese cities. And so on and so on.

The Chinese government reportedly has attempted to slow down such developments. Western media stories about China's rapid progress and development are often extremely critical, which just demonstrate how self-righteous Westerners are prone to conveniently forget the global context and histories of their own respective societies.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.


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