There’s the Eiffel Tower, a quaint British village, a landlocked Titanic, and super-sized Tower Bridge—that’s right, we’re in the territory of copycat Chinese architecture. The debate has begun anew over whether Chinese cities should continue to build knockoff replicas of global landmarks or just knock it off.
The tinder to the most recent controversy is a 2012 replica of London’s Tower Bridge, located in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou. The bridge isn’t a precise copy—it features four towers (and a four-lane roadway) instead of the original’s two—but the site has become a popular tourist destination nonetheless. The New York Times found a recent headline on a Chinese news site which boasts: “Suzhou’s Amazing ‘London Tower Bridge’: Even More Magnificent Than the Real One.” Wedding photographers also praise the bridge’s ability to lend photo shoots a European flair.
But many folks, from online commenters to staff at a local paper, have spoken out against the knockoff architecture trend, saying that it devalues China’s rich architectural traditions. At the same time, Cheng Taining, an architect at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told the Beijing News in 2015, “Chinese officials like foreign things they’ve seen. They will tell you ‘Please design a building that looks like that building overseas.’”
Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping famously banned so-called “weird architecture” devoid of cultural tradition. It hasn’t been going particularly well.