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China’s infamous European recreations fell flat with tourists and residents.

It all started with the Shanghai Planning Commission’s launch of a project titled “One City, Nine Towns” back in 2001. China’s tourism industry decided it would benefit from big-budget investment into recreating some of Europe’s most iconic and authentic towns and cities.

A visit to the city of Shanghai could now, in theory, also include a trip to the likes of Amsterdam, London and Paris. The government’s expectations were big – the division of suburban Shanghai into European “towns” would alleviate civil pressures from its centre, building new economies and encouraging tourism across the entire district. 

Other parts of the country got a taste of this ambition and followed suit, with housing developments emulating that of quaint Swiss towns and Italian shopping promenades.

What was once a tourism plan so bold in scope it was unfathomable to other continents fell victim to its own hype. Tourists were left underwhelmed by the strange iterations of the world’s favourite destinations, settings that felt more akin to film production lots.

Things grew strange very quickly. Some believe the developments are better described as failed theme parks – after all, China is believed to house over 1,600 unprofitable attractions of this kind.

Billions of yuan have been wasted on China’s very own mini-Epcot’s; places that now exist as ghost towns at worst and lukewarm photo opportunities at best. To this day, experts aren’t really sure how it happened.

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