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China’s communist city mayors compete for most extravagant vanity project

CHINA’S communist mayors are striving to out-do one another in a vanity project competition of extravagant building projects and squandering billions in the process.

A combination of competitiveness of party officials, flush foreign currency reserves, industrial over capacity and restless workforce have resulted in a range of eccentric building projects in the world’s most populous nation.

(Thames Town in Songjiang, Shanghai, China (Credit: Huai-Chun Hsu, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

The country boasts many strange architectural endeavours, such as an exact replica of the US White House in Jiangsu province and a strange ghost town outside Shanghai called “Thames Town” replete with mock Edwardian houses.

The new Datong city walls (Credit: w0zny, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license)

In 2015 Geng Yanbo, the mayor of the central city of Datong, bulldozed 200,000 homes in order to recreate the 14th century Ming Dynasty walls of the Old City.

Datong City Wall in 1907 (Credit: Édouard Chavannes, public domain)

Although he was reappointed to the city of Taiyuan before he could reconstruct the entire city.

Datong City Wall in 1907 (Credit: Édouard Chavannes, public domain)

The mayor of Shazhou, in Hunan province transformed the town into a “red museum” dedicated to Mao Zedong with statues of the great leader and PLA soldiers, raking up a huge debt in the process.


In the property development called Tianducheng there has been built a replica of the centre of Paris in his with Champs de Elysee, Eiffel tower (only one third in scale).

A little section of Paris in Tianducheng (Credit: MNXANL, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)

These eccentric building projects are reminiscent of the competitiveness of aristocratic British landlords of the 19th and 19th century who sought to build the biggest mansion.

At least the Chinese mayors are allowing all the citizens to enjoy their vanity projects though.

In China it is reported that “worship” of senior party officials is endemic and systematic.

In his book called, The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers, author Richard McGregor describes speaking to a former vice-mayoral official called Wang.

The official explains the elevated position reserved for party members especially the hierarchy of officials.

That even goes for people like e-commerce giant Alibaba’s Jack Ma, telecom company Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei or celebrities like actress Fan Bingbing

Wang explains that if a writer, artist and official were to be seated next to one another, “people would defer to the official”.

Power worship

The former official said: “Power worship has become a national religion in China.”

The internal party elections of city mayors is beset with farcical problems.

The most obvious being that in many of theses local elections for mayoral candidates there is only one candidate to choose from.

They take place at regional “people’s congresses”.

These are effectively rubber stamping exercises.

The events are heavy on ceremony and light on administrative authority.

An estimated 7 percent of China’s population are members of the party.

The world’s most populous country has an estimated 1.4 billion people, and so it is calculated that the Communist Party of China has 90 million members.

Party membership is not sole domain of the political class but also a requirement for those wishing to get anywhere within the world of business or even entertainment.

Jack Ma, who created in Hangzhou, China in March 1999 (Credit: JD Lasica,

Alibaba’s Jackie Ma is a member, as is Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei.

But in 2016 the Chinese government started to issue new laws that would eventual ban the practice of building replicas or other “weird” structures.

State run newspaper the China Daily reported: “Bizarre architecture that is not economical, functional, aesthetically pleasing or environmentally friendly will be forbidden.”

This edict comes from the top as one year into President Xi Jinping reign as president he declared his plan to rid the country of “weird architecture”.

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