China Unveils Latest (And Largest) Knockoff: An Entire “Austrian Village”

$940 Million Project Elicits Mixed Response From Hallstatt Residents

Model of the replica Hallstatt village in China

Chinese companies have long been known for their ability to replicate technology or products from around the world, but this weekend, one of the country’s largest “cloning” projects — an entire city — was unveiled. Built by the Chinese developer Minmetals Land at the cost of US$940 million, a full-scale replica of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Austrian town of Hallstatt opened its doors to visitors in Guangdong province, about 100 miles (60 kilometers) from Hong Kong. Highly controversial from the get-go, the Chinese replica of the ancient European village has left little out, with Minmetals Land hoping to sell an exact replica of Hallstatt’s church clock tower, European style wooden houses and other properties to wealthy investors.

Though the project initially sparked a furious response from some residents of Hallstatt, Reuters notes today that “local authorities in Hallstatt have since softened their stance, seeing a rare, marketing opportunity at the heart of one of the world’s fastest growing tourism markets.” From Reuters:

“It was not so controversial. We were only surprised that a small village in Austria was built, and now we are very proud that it happened,” said Hallstatts Mayor Alexander Scheutz, who flew with an Austrian delegation to mark the official opening and signed documents promising future cultural ties.

Director of Tourism Hallstatt, Pamela Binder, said Hallstatt had made peace with its Chinese replica.

“First we were a bit insecure. Why did it come to replicate Hallstatt, and then we became lucky and proud,” Binder said.

Fewer than 50 Chinese tourists visited Hallstatt in 2005, but now thousands fly to the Austrian town every year, according to officials from the Austrian delegation in China.

Both Minmetals and tourism officials in Hallstatt seem to be bullish about the draw of the “Made in China” version of Hallstatt, but we’ll have to wait and see if the replicated town actually attracts investors — or sits largely empty like other simulated international villages like Shanghai’s Thames Town.