(Refiles to remove byline)
HUIZHOU, China, June 4 A $940 million Chinese
clone of one of Austria's most picturesque villages, the UNESCO
World Heritage-listed Hallstatt, recently opened its doors to
visitors in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong amidst
In a nation known for its skill in manufacturing knock-offs
ranging iPhones to Hermes Birkins, the replica village is
perhaps the most ambitious attempt at Chinese reproduction yet.
The "Made in China" version of the lakeside European village
known for tourism and salt includes an exact replica of its
church clock tower, European style wooden houses and other
properties that will be sold to investors.
The project, conceived by a Chinese mining tycoon, initially
sparked outrage and surprise among some Hallstatt villagers, who
weren't at first aware of the attempt to copy their unique,
Half an hour's ride away from the gritty city of Huizhou,
close to China's "world factory" of the Pearl River Delta,
China's Hallstatt hopes to become a new tourist attraction.
Disney-themed photo spots are scattered around the village's
main plaza, which is modelled after Hallstatt's marketplace.
"The moment I stepped into here, I felt I was in Europe,"
said 22-year-old Zhu Bin, a Huizhou resident. "The security
guards wear nice costumes. All the houses are built in European
Taking up one million square metres (yards), cranes and
construction sites spread across barren hills above the gabled
houses, promising an expansion of the current town.
Despite the initial mixed response, 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.
"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.
Visitors and journalists filming on site last Friday were
asked to leave shortly before Scheutz's unannounced visit.
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.
But some Hallstadt residents remained unconvinced.
"I dont think that it is a good idea. Hallstatt is just
unique with its culture and traditions. You cannot copy that. I
saw a report and the photos, and the copy seems different. In my
opinion it is unacceptable," said resident Karin Höll.
(Reporting by Reuters China, additional reporting by Venus Wu
in HONG KONG and Robin Raimund and Marie Oszegi In HALLSTATT,
Editing by James Pomfret and Elaine Lies)