China’s ‘Fake’ Cities—and the Places They’ve Copied

In the early 2000s, a number of these knock-off towns sprung up across China, replicating everywhere from Venice to Egypt.Getty Images
The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.Getty Images

At first glance, this English street might not seem so strange. Surrounded by familiar Tudor architecture and with traditional cobblestone under foot, it all seems familiar—if slightly off-kilter.

But if you take a second look, you’ll notice Chinese newlyweds posing for photos at street corners. The shops sell steamed buns rather than roast dinner, and Chinese translations underline the English signage.

This surreal city is Thames Town in Songjiang, China, named after the River Thames in England. Its architecture imitates classic English market town styles, and newlywed couples flock to the picturesque town to have their wedding pictures taken in these exotic surroundings.

In the early 2000s, a number of these knock-off towns sprung up across China, replicating everywhere from Venice to Egypt to Washington, DC. We’ve reported on the fate of these cities, some of which famously fell into disrepair after becoming ghost towns.

Our gallery shows the best of these fakes—some are so similar as to be uncanny, while some seem to have been designed by people with only a vague grasp of the original material.

Join us on our tour of this Chinese architectural fakery fad, a phenomena that looks likely to keep growing—despite government efforts to stop it.

A street cleaner crosses the street in front of a replica of the Eiffel Tower in Tianducheng, a luxury real estate development located in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang province. The replica Eiffel Tower rises to 108 metres in the heart of the city's plush Tianducheng development. Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images
The town centre in Keswick, a market town located in the Lake District in Cumbria, UK.Getty Images
Chinese newlyweds pose for wedding photographs in Thames Town in Songjiang, China. Thames Town is in Songjiang, 35km from central Shanghai.Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
The Parthenon in Athens, Greece.Getty Images
A replica of the Parthenon in Greece stands at the abandoned Wanguo Park in Wuhan, Hubei province. The park replicas were abandoned during the course of construction 18 years ago and have since become part of the landscape of Wuhan's East Lake Park tourist attraction.Wang He/Getty Images
Tower Bridge over the Thames river in London, England.Getty Images
A bridge modeled on London's Tower Bridge, in Suzhou, in China's eastern Jiangsu province. The bridge features four 40-meter-tall towers instead of two, but otherwise uses many design elements from the London original.STR/AFP/Getty Images
The White House in Washington, DC.Getty Images
A replica of the White House at Beijing World Park, one of the three designated "protest parks" in Beijing during the Olympics. Reuters/Claro Cortes
The U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.Getty Images
A view of the government office building in Yingquan district in Fuyang of Anhui Province, east China. At a cost of $4.28m, the 'western-style' building is referred to as the 'White House' by locals. The construction of the building was made possible through the demolition of a local school and the repossession of farming land. China Photos/Getty Images
The Chinese government house in Sansha, anchored on a remote tropical island under the administration of southern Hainan province. The so-called ‘city’ is on Yongxing, one of many small islands, reefs and shoals that make up the disputed Paracel Islands. STR/AFP/Getty Images

At first glance, this English street might not seem so strange. Surrounded by familiar Tudor architecture and with traditional cobblestone under foot, it all seems familiar—if slightly off-kilter.

But if you take a second look, you’ll notice Chinese newlyweds posing for photos at street corners. The shops sell steamed buns rather than roast dinner, and Chinese translations underline the English signage.

This surreal city is Thames Town in Songjiang, China, named after the River Thames in England. Its architecture imitates classic English market town styles, and newlywed couples flock to the picturesque town to have their wedding pictures taken in these exotic surroundings.

In the early 2000s, a number of these knock-off towns sprung up across China, replicating everywhere from Venice to Egypt to Washington, DC. We’ve reported on the fate of these cities, some of which famously fell into disrepair after becoming ghost towns.

Our gallery shows the best of these fakes—some are so similar as to be uncanny, while some seem to have been designed by people with only a vague grasp of the original material.

Join us on our tour of this Chinese architectural fakery fad, a phenomena that looks likely to keep growing—despite government efforts to stop it.