Just when you thought it wasn’t possible for Chinese real estate “creativity” to jump the shark further, a recent report reveals that one of the next major real estate projects in China is going to be a full recreation of Stratford-upon-Avon, together with copies of houses where William Shakespeare lived.
Not content with its replicas of the Eiffel Tower, London’s Tower Bridge, and Jackson Hole, this particular recreation is the latest in a series of generally pointless – if GDP boosting – projects to give real estate companies and construction developers a change of pace from building empty apartment buildings in cities that have no citizens.
The Financial Times reported that the project contract was signed last week between the city of Fuzhou, and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which owns the Shakespearean heritage sites in the United Kingdom. The contract paves the way to begin construction on the world’s first recreation of the two houses where Shakespeare was born, lived and died.
The Chinese’s track record of recreating replica sites has been spotty, if entertaining for the rest of the world. The replica of Tower Bridge in London (pictured above) was built with four towers instead of the original’s two. The replica Eiffel Tower that the country built was only about a third of the height of the original. But the Birthplace Trust doesn’t seem too excited with developers taking creative liberties. The fee for the project has been undisclosed, but the Trust is adamant that they want the replicas to be as close to the originals as possible.
Philippa Rawlinson, deputy chief executive of the trust, told FT: “We know that the Chinese laugh at themselves for creating Tower Bridge double width et cetera. But this is our intellectual property and… there needs to be a contract and something that means we can fundamentally manage our reputation and manage the story.”
As part of this, they’re going to offer “expert guidance” on how to make the project using traditional building materials and methods. They’re also going approve all stages of design and interpretation. The construction is slated to begin next year as part of – in true Chinese fashion – the construction of an entire new town called San Weng, which is supposed to be completed in 2020.
Getting the details right but might be more difficult than it seems. The original house where Shakespeare lived until his death no longer exists, after it was demolished in 1702. It will have to be re-created using archaeological clues and guidance from the Trust. Building techniques have also changed significantly, making a truly authentic replica especially complex:
Much of the charm of Shakespeare’s birthplace comes from the sensation of stepping back in time. The visible undulation of the flagstone floors, the ancient timber beams, the narrow bed on which Shakespeare slept and the graffiti left by visitors from hundreds of years ago are all features that are difficult, if not impossible, to copy. Such features mean that some compromises on authenticity need to be made.
The Trust’s project manager, Nic Fulcher, stated: “(They) are not building a timber frame building, but the interior and exterior finish have got to be appropriate.”
So why is China bothering with yet another Western replica instead of growing out its own, domestic culture? Simple: for the city of Fuzhou, the construction of the new town of San Weng represents a big investment that is intended to rebrand the area as a centre for culture, bringing in revenues from tourism and real estate.
And any time one sees “big investment” when it comes to China, what one should read is “GDP growth”… along with the token amount of corruption and skimming off the top.
In addition to the town’s envisaged “Stratford quarter”, other precincts will be built in styles that are reminiscent of Cervantes, the great Spanish novelist, and Tang Xianzu, a native of Jiangxi province most famous for the classical work The Peony Pavilion. By coincidence, Shakespeare, Cervantes and Tang Xianzu all died in 1616.
So we know why, although a logical counterargument is that perhaps China should first consider filling out its empty cities and apartment buildings before taking on new projects. Then again, that activity does not “boost” GDP and involves government bureaucrats doing actual work, which explains why the status quo will continue indefinitely.