A Chinese property developer which secretly copied a famously picturesque Austrian village and then began rebuilding it in China is under criticism.
So famed is Austria’s Alpine village of Halstatt (population: 900) for its scenic beauty and rustic architecture that it has been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has also become a major tourist trap.
Such is the village’s popularity amongst easily impressed East Asian tourists, and Chinese ones in particular, that one enterprising Chinese property developer decided to copy the entire village and rebuild it as an upscale housing development and tourist attraction alongside one of China’s famously pristine lakes.
Construction on the Chinese version of the village began in April, in Guandong near Hong Kong’s internal border with China.
The developer describes it as “surrounded by mountains with mountain and lake views,” and built “in a European architectural style, with a commercial street built with the characteristics of an Austrian-style town.”
Visiting press describe the construction site’s surroundings in less optimistic terms: “there was not an alpine peak in sight and the waters of a nearby lake, apparently the faux Lake Hallstatt to be, were green and murky. Instead of mirroring majestic alpine mountaintops, several dead fish floated on the surface.”
In addition to being a physical replica, developers say the site will copy the touristic core of the village down to shops selling “Austrian-style” glass crystal souvenirs.
Interestingly, as well as appealing to rich Chinese, the developers hope the site will be appealing to “Caucasian people living in Hong Kong who are homesick” – most Caucasians of course hailing from Austrian villages.
The actual business of copying the village was secretly accomplished without the knowledge or consent of village residents, and only came to the attention of village residents when a Chinese person working on the project accidentally revealed the scope of the plan.
The developers claim there will be no problems with “so-called intellectual property,” but seem to have taken precautions anyway – the plans to the copy village have all been subjected to mirror-image reversal.
Halstatt’s mayor claims to been “stunned” to learn of the wholesale piracy of an entire village, but as the project was already well underway by the time he learnt of it, he says there was nothing he could do – not that it can be imagined the Chinese would care in any case.
Not all Halstatt’s residents are so diplomatically supine – a local hotel owner whose 400-year-old establishment was copied and is now under construction in faraway China is none too pleased:
“I don’t like the idea of knowing that a team was present here for years measuring, and photographing and studying us. I would have expected them to approach us directly, the whole thing reminds of a bit of Big Brother is watching.
This house is my personal work of art. And then someone comes here and copies it, for me, it’s as if a painter copies someone else’s artwork.”
She says most other residents are “outraged, not about the fact but the approach.” However, as there is apparently nothing anyone can do about China, they instead cling to the hope that some visitors to the fake version will be more minded to visit the Austrian original.