Chinese Miniature of Paris is a Ghost Town

While tourists from around the world spend great amounts to visit the City of Lights, those living in China now have a cheaper option available than the long flight across two continents. They can simply come to Tianducheng, a gated community near the city of Hangzhou in Zhejiang Povince made to look exactly like Paris.

Tianducheng comes complete with a 354-foot high Eiffel Tower, a miniature duplicate garden of the Champs de Mars, and 12 square miles of Haussman architecture. A fountain exactly like the one in Jardins de Luxembourg can be found in the town’s central square.

The town was opened in 2007 to accommodate 10,000 residents. However, since opening, it has remained sparsely populated and only a fraction of the grandiose residences are occupied. According to Reuters, local media refer to it as a “ghost town.”

Scenes in the town highlight the eerie contrast between the lavish European architectural backdrop and the sparse Chinese population leading a typically rural way of life. Rural migrants who inhabit the outskirts of the mini-European metropolis cycle between buildings working on the town’s upkeep. A couple of men bathe outside the city under a hose, with the Eiffel Tower replica in the background. At most times of day, the streets are almost empty, and most residents are found working in the French-themed village park nearby.

Since Paris is widely considered a popular romantic destination, developers built Tianducheng expecting that a miniature version of the French city would do well in the Chinese real estate market. Other faux-European cities have been duplicated similarly in Guangdong Province, such as the Thames Town based on an English village (complete with red telephone boxes and quaint pubs) or Halstatt 2 based on a scenic village in Austria.

Official statistics that were last released in 2007 show that only 2,400 inhabitants fill the Parisian townhouses. For most Chinese people Tianducheng would be too expensive. Buyers are often affluent and seeking a third or fourth residence. Work in the community is expected to be completed in 2015, so the city may fill up yet. For now, though, it is most frequented by newlywed couples using the Parisian background for wedding photo-shoots.

Tianducheng highlights the problem of China’s growing housing bubble. The city is another in a myriad of projects that add to China’s oversupply and the overvaluation of property. Chinese economic plans demand continued GDP growth, which is most easily met by building more houses. According to a short documentary by Dateline, there are approximately 64 million empty apartments in China and at least 10 new cities are built every year across the country. Economic experts are worried that such policies are creating a housing bubble that could soon burst.

Yet, projects like Tianducheng remain popular. This type of grand imitation is not frowned upon in China as it is in the West. Traditionally, copying great works of art or architecture is considered a way to honor and learn from the original works. Chinese artists would learn to draw and paint by copying masterpieces to perfection before producing unique art. Perhaps this can help explain the mentality fueling construction of the French replica in China. To some Tianducheng may seem to be a forgery, but to many in China the city seems to honor Paris through imitation.

One thing is for sure: should anything ever happen to our beloved Paris, there is always a back-up City of Lights waiting in China.

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