By Michael Evans
Chinese architects high on ambition but low on creativity have brought the world counterfeit chateaux, shanzhai Sydney Opera Houses, and imitation English villages.
But it takes a special kind of chutzpah to duplicate the seat of government of a major world power.
The Jiangsu city of Wuxi is home to not one, not two, but four buildings with a less-than-coincidental resemblance to the US Capitol.
Photos circulated recently by Chinese netizens show Wuxi’s four capitols, each of which houses the offices of a district People’s Court.
Wuxi’s copycats are hardly alone in their oversized ambitions. Government buildings across China have been constructed in recent years sporting some variation of the US Capitol’s trademark cupola and neoclassical facade.
Writing for Foreign Policy last week, archaeologist Jack Carlson speculates on the motivations behind the prevalence of these foreign landmarks in replica.
He compares China’s “copycat cities” to the Qianlong Emperor’s Western-style palaces and gardens in Beijing’s Yuanmingyuan, as well as Qin Shihuang’s replicas of the capitals of his vanquished foes.
To Carlson, these modern copies, like those of the past, are a “symbolic language to convey [China’s] burgeoning global primacy.”
Like their quarter-millennium-old counterparts, these imitations are beacons — directed at both Chinese nationals and outsiders — of China’s worldly scientific and cultural knowledge.
By appropriating the monumental trappings of power from distant places and times, the Chinese do not merely place their own country on a symbolic par with historical Western superpowers, but suggest that China has mastered and transcended their levels of achievement.