Chinese copycats upset UNESCO site citizens

Residents, businesspeople and politicians of Hallstatt are engaged in a heated discussion about the pros and cons of Chinese architects’ plans to set up a replica of the small town around 9,000 kilometres eastwards.

Alexander Scheutz, the Social Democratic (SPÖ) mayor of the town said yesterday (Weds) after being informed about planners’ ongoing activities: “You must not do such things without letting authorities and owners of houses know.”

Scheutz explained he would contact Upper Austria’s People’s Party (ÖVP) Governor Josef Pühringer to speak about the controversial project. Asian architects have spent months in Hallstatt to create blueprints of the picturesque town which has around 800 residents. They plan to create an inverted replica of the tourism hotspot in the Bolou County in China’s Guangdong Province. Reports have it that construction activities will start later this year.

Organisers of the ambitious project are understood to approach Upper Austrian decision-makers regarding the possible partnerships after hearing of their opposing points of view. “I’d like to be informed if someone sets up my house at the other side of the globe,” the manager of a hotel in Hallstatt told the Austrian Kurier newspaper today. She admitted having grown suspicious after a Chinese couple spent an “usually long period” at her establishment. “It turned out that the woman was not on holiday, but came here to create sketches of houses and monuments,” the hotelier added.

Scheutz said yesterday he felt “a bit terrified” by the copy of his town before claiming today he was happy that “such an ancient culture like China considers us.”

The politician said: “Only good things are copied.”

The mayor said today it was “understandable” that people were sceptical about the Chinese endeavour since planners “acted behind their backs.” Only yesterday, the Social Democrat vowed to prevent the project from getting underway. He explained being informed in previous briefings that “some houses” were copied before learning that the whole town will be recreated thousands of kilometres away to create a posh new living area for members of China’s growing upper class.

Scheutz admitted he had a “peculiar gut feeling” when he thinks about a Hallstatt replica being set up in China. Juridical experts have ruled out that the town has chances to stop the project, also due to the fact that a back-to-front copy will be created. Austrian and international tourism analysts emphasised that Hallstatt would only experience advantages if the Chinese replica gets set up. One expert told German press Austrians were well advised to consider the project as a “godsend.”

Hallstatt – which is a World Heritage Site, according to standards established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) – welcomes thousands of tourists from Asia each year.

Chinese architects recreated a large number of miniature versions of European landmarks in their homeland over the past years to create extraordinary housing estates to wealthy citizens in the booming Asian state.