Wealthy Chinese build castles around country as exotic novelties

By Huang Yiran in Xinle and Shan Jie in Beijing Source:Global Times Published: 2018/12/25 18:13:39

A Hogwarts-like castle at an art school in northern China went viral online for its out-of-the-place replicas

Experts said the phenomenon shows the anxiety of China's newly rich about identity and class stratification

A couple takes wedding photos in front of the "Harry Potter" castle at Hebei Academy of Fine Art in North China's Hebei Province. Photo: VCG



Wang Yan has fulfilled her dream of getting married in a castle at the age of 22.

Wang, in a white wedding dress, poses in front of the castle, like a real princess.

The Gothic-style castle has dozens of gray spires that stretch into the smoggy sky of Hebei Province in North China.

"It's so beautiful here. The scenery is so nice," Wang told the Global Times.

Wang and her fiancé, surnamed Li, live 25 kilometers away in Xingtang, a county under Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei.

That day they paid 500 yuan for the permit to take wedding photos on the castle grounds.

The building is part of the Hebei Academy of Fine Arts campus, located west of the Zhengding airport in Shijiazhuang.

The castle became an internet phenomenon after a Hebei vlogger, Schlieffen, visited the campus and published a video on Sina Weibo in May. In the video, titled "Hogwarts Hebei branch," Schlieffen showed the collection of items on campus, such as printed masterpieces in a basement and a pirate boat in the canteen.

The video, only three minutes long, had received more than 8.8 million views with 11,000 comments on Weibo as of press time.

Castles are not common in China. However, in recent decades, modern takes on the medieval structures have popped up around China, some of them rivaling the originals in Europe in luxury and grandeur.

China's newly wealthy are building castles to display a noble style and mimic "old money" qualities, said experts on culture.

Attending Hogwarts

The stunning castle towers of Hebei Academy of Fine Arts come into view when driving on national road No. 107, about 20 minutes from Shijiazhuang's Zhengding Airport.

The castle, named Cinderella Castle, contains a set of buildings, each in different styles, colors and materials.

The Global Times reporters entered one and found a multi-functional building: a management office occupied the third floor, the second floor had restaurants, one serving Korean bibimbap, and students rushed into the basement, where some classrooms were located.

One of the castles serves as a hotel, which is run by a hotel company operating out of the school. The price of a night's stay is around 100 yuan ($14.50).

The structures also hold student dormitories, but there were complaints that the school banned students from hanging their clothes to dry outside because it would ruin the architecture's aristocratic effect.

The castle's interior lives up to its outward majesty. Colorful Baroque-style painted plafonds depict European legends, life-size sculptures stand by the wall, and hundreds of printed masterpieces fill the corridors.



The castle in Huasheng Garden in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality. Photo: VCG



Apart from the castle, the campus also features traditional Chinese buildings and replicas of other world landmarks, such as pagodas, the Confucius temple, the Statue of Liberty and London's Tower Bridge.

Liu Yunhao, assistant director of the management committee of the campus region, told the Global Times that the campus was built starting around 2009.

"The old headmaster of the school told us, 'You build a big castle there. The castle will bring a lot of resources to our students,'" Liu said. "The art students could learn something about Western art history. They could also do sketches on campus."

Zhen Zhongyi, headmaster and a local businessman, built his fortune through art education in the 1990s before building the academy. His ambition is to build the school into an "empire of art," according to China Newsweek.

"The buildings here have borrowed some things from the famous architecture of China and overseas," Liu said. "Ours is Gothic, and the Harry Potter castle as well."

"But it is just a style. We have made our own changes based on the style. We do not copy," Liu said. "Basically, all ancient European castles were of those styles, Gothic or Baroque."

Liu said that it would take 27 years to finish building the whole campus. The project has won support from the government. "But the financial support is not much for us, as our investment has been too big." He said that 2 billion yuan has been put into the project and estimated it would take 3 billion more to finish.

Liu said enrollments are increasing year by year.

"I saw the advertisements for the school and thought the castle was so beautiful," Wang Delin, a media student at Hebei Academy of Fine Arts, said when asked why he chose to attend.

"We are all Harry Potter," Ning Yi, Wang's classmate said.

Royalty for a night

Sputnik reported in November that a Chinese castle had caught the attention of Russian netizens.

Jilong Castle Country Club, a four-star hotel located in the center of a remote lake in Southwest China's Guizhou Province, looks very much like the famous Bavarian Neuschwanstein Castle, which served as inspiration for Disney.

"There might be a magic school inside," the netizens guessed.

Staying one night at the castle costs only 262 yuan, according to the price listed on Ctrip.



Jilong Castle Country Club, a four-star hotel, sits in the center of a remote lake in Southwest China's Guizhou Province. Photo: VCG



However, not all fairytales can come true for such a low price. At the Castle Hotel in Dalian, a coastal city in Northeast China's Liaoning Province, rooms go for at least 1,248 yuan per night.

The luxury hotel, which stands on a mountain in the city center, has become one of the most eye-catching landmarks in Dalian.

Besides the standard rooms, the hotel, which opened in 2014, also features the Castle Suite, Knight Suite and Noble Suite. The Presidential Suite, priced at 59,396 yuan per night on Ctrip, occupies 620 square meters.



The Castle Hotel in Dalian, Northeast China's Liaoning Province. Photo: VCG

The Wencheng Castle in Penglai in East China's Shandong Province became famous this year after being featured in the Chinese comedy Hello Mr. Billionaire.

Built in 2011 by architect Li Wencheng, the castle is a chateau in the Baroque style. Now it has become a scenic spot charging 60 yuan per entrance ticket.

New money anxiety

As early as the Qin Dynasty (221 BC-206 BC), China's feudal castles were replaced by city walls and moats. The Great Wall was used to fend off the attacks of foreign forces, said Shi Wenxue, a Beijing-based cultural critic.

Unlike in medieval Europe, ancient China banned local chiefs from building castles because of centralism, Shi explained. "But in some regions administered by ethnic minorities, run under the Tusi, or headman, system, castles were allowed to be built."

Castles were typical fortified buildings of medieval Europe. Since reform and opening-up, Chinese people have become acquainted with castle-style buildings as communication between China and the West has increased, Jiang Haisheng, head of the Journalism and Communication Department at Shandong University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times.

For many Chinese people, castles are exotic and attractive, so they have been built to draw tourists. "It is not necessary to say China lacks confidence in culture when seeing castles," Jiang noted.


 

While building new castles in China, China's rich are also buying them up abroad. Yicai reported that Cheng Haiyan, a wine company owner from Qingdao, Shandong, bought Latour Laguens, an ancient Bordeaux chateau, to upgrade her business. Zhang Yin, currently China's richest woman, has also bought a castle in the region, the report quoted an insider as saying.

In current consumer society, castles are no longer a symbol of war and fortresses anymore, but they stand for a "noble" spirit and lifestyle, and some hotels, schools and scenic spots have adopted this symbolism and built castle-like buildings, Shi said.

However, whether they choose Western- or Chinese-style nobility, it shows that the newly wealthy long to package themselves as a more traditional upper class, Shi noted. "They want to change 'new money' into 'old money.'"

This psychology indicates some people's feelings of inferiority, vanity and anxiety about the identity of the newly rich, he said.

But if the castles do not fit the environment, government departments might need to manage them and their construction, Jiang said, adding that this is the same when building traditional Chinese buildings. "Everyone rushing to build a certain style of building, like chasing a trend, is not proper."

China is promoting traditional culture, and building castles should not be encouraged, as many of them look odd - neither Chinese nor truly Western. "Regardless of artistry, style or design, the most important thing for a building is for it to be practical and suit the environment around it," said Shi.






 


Newspaper headline: Castle Craze


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