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Chinese tourists may be flocking to Europe in record numbers, but now they can see some of the continent's top historical attractions without ever leaving the People's Republic. The Alpine village of Hallstatt, Austria, (a UNESCO World Heritage site on the picturesque shore of the Hallstätter See) has been re-created in full-scale replica in Boluo, in southern China. Complete with European-style wood houses and the town's signature Roman-numeral clock tower, the made-in-China version of Hallstatt opened this summer for visitors and new residents.
The Chinese developers, Minmetals Land Ltd., even got the real mayor of Hallstatt to fly in from Austria to mark the occasion. Strange as it sounds, the Hallstatt replica is hardly unique in China. The Middle Kingdom is cloning Western monuments, palaces, and entire towns -- often at a frenetic pace and with uncanny accuracy. But why? American and European commentators -- not to mention residents of the original cities -- are variously amused, indignant, and, above all, puzzled.
This is not, however, the first time China has imported Western architecture on a grand scale. Now, as in China's past, imitation isn't intended as flattery. The ancient parallels for these copycat projects suggest that they are not mere follies, but monumental assertions of China's global primacy.