Fake Great Wall Prompts Introspection, While Real One Falls Apart

As reported on Monday, the Jiangsu village of Huaxi recently unveiled a 328-metre skyscraper, crowned with a golden disco ball and housing a one-ton solid gold ox. The Guardian has now published a video report on the village and its new centrepiece.

Also among Huaxi’s architectural treasures are replicas of the Great Wall, Tiananmen, the Arc de Triomphe, the U.S. Capitol and a somewhat half-hearted Sydney Opera House, intended to feed a local tourism industry which raised over US$30 million last year. But the shanzhai landmarks have touched a nerve already raw after the death of Steve Jobs: why does China still tend so heavily towards imitation, rather than innovation? From China Real Time Report:

“Tiananmen should apply for a patent. Otherwise the replicas of Tiananmen will come out constantly,” Shao Lianxiang, vice president of Chinese property developer Zhongyi Holding Co., wrote on the Sina Weibo. One internet poster with the online pseudonym Jiangdong Dahu said on Sina Weibo: “This is plainly the work of uneducated, uncultured villagers.”

In a commentary published Thursday, the Beijing Morning Post said the replicas proved that the village’s success hasn’t engendered a distinctive cultural identity. Rather, it has provided a vivid example that illustrates the Chinese people’s psychological state.

It also brought up a replica of Beijing National Stadium, or the Bird’s Nest, being built in a suburb of Nanjing. “In recent days, the Chinese public has hotly debated the topic of why doesn’t China have a lifelong innovator like [Steve] Jobs. If Jobs could see the Capitol Hill in China’s No. 1 village, what would he think? How many replicas of the White House and Bird’s Nest will we see before a Chinese Jobs is born?”

CRT examined similar soul-searching soon after Jobs’ death. While many Chinese made familiar arguments about the country’s education system, others, including scholar Wu Jiaxiang, pointed squarely at its politics:

“If Apple is a fruit on a tree, its branches are the freedom to think and create, and its root is constitutional democracy. An authoritarian nation may be able to build huge projects collectively but will never be able to produce science and technology giants.”

The Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore, meanwhile, reports that the real Great Wall is suffering from a combination of illegal mining and simple neglect:

One complete section of the wall in Laiyuan County in north China’s Hebel Province has crumbled because of mining along a 94-mile stretch, according to a report by the People’s Daily. “We have no idea how many enterprises are engaged in mining along the Great Wall,” said Guo Jianyong, an engineer from the provincial architecture protection agency ….

Only a small part of the wall outside Beijing has been carefully maintained, with the rest of the structure left untended.

“Actually the biggest problem is not illegal mining, but simply the fact that there is no regular maintenance,” said Dong Waohui, the vice-chairman of the Great Wall Association.

“Each year, local governments report damage on their stretch of the wall to Beijing and then the central government allocates funding for worst areas. But this is not maintenance work, this is rescue work.”

See also Moore’s September report on the impact of heavy mining in Shanxi, and a recent Los Angeles Times article on China’s abundance of extravagant “face projects”, via CDT.