Hallstatt, an Austrian Hamlet in Communist China

Chinese architects know a good thing when they see one, so when they saw Hallstatt, Austria, they got to thinking and concluded, logically, that it would be a great idea to rebuild an exact copy of the town back in the middle kingdom.

Unfortunately, no one asked the residents of the scenic hamlet, which clings to the side of an alpine lake, whether they would be okay with their homes being replicated.

Now they're pretty pissed.

"I don't like the idea of knowing that a team was present here for years measuring, and photographing and studying us," Monika Wenger, who owns a hotel in the UNESCO-recognized town, told the AP.

The Chinese Hallstatt is already being constructed by China Minmetals Corporation, a state-run company, in Guandong province, but Der Spiegel reports that lawyers have been deployed.

The catch is that there may not be a clear legal precedent for a motion to stop construction. Though the bootleg DVDs for sale in Beijing are definitely illegal, an entire bootleg town might not be.

Strangely, the replication of Hallstatt is not unprecedented: The German town of Anting and a small corner of London (with a statue of Harry Potter) have already been recreated near Shanghai and scaled-down versions of Barcelona, Venice and Dorchester, England have also been erected.

All this reconstruction clearly says something about the complicated relationship between China and the west. Chinese tourists apparently like visiting Western-style towns denuded of their history and context. A similar thing could be said, I suppose, of people who go to Epcot Center, but Epcot seems much more innocent, presenting tamed ideas of different countries rather than simulations of specific places.

One is a bowl of marzipan fruit, the other is a tofurkey.

An interesting addendum to this particular story is that tourism representatives of Hallstatt have embraced the Chinese project, which they conclude will increase revenue from Asian travelers. I can't decide whether this is cynical or enlightened. Probably it's both.

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