In pictures: The Paris of the East
“The fake Eiffel Tower is the first thing you see when you arrive by road. I remember saying out loud, ‘What the fuck is this?’ when I caught my first glimpse of it – the Eiffel Tower, surrounded by vegetable patches, with a big fence around it and a man in a guard hut at the bottom. The developers ran out of money to develop this area around the Eiffel Tower, so people started planting things there. They’re not meant do it, but who cares – everyone knows the developers are not going to build any more soon. It’s one of the classic ‘grey areas’ in China: a place where entry is forbidden but nobody will do anything to stop you going”
Photojournalist Gabriel Gauffre left his native Paris in 2013 to move to Hangzhou in south-east China. For the last year he’s been visiting nearby Tiandoucheng, a satellite town modelled on his home city. For issue #17 of Delayed Gratification, we spoke to him about this strangely familiar remnant of China’s late property boom. Here are some highlights from the photo feature.
“This sculpture is modelled on the statue of Apollo in a fountain at the Château of Versailles. It’s new but it looks 200 years old – it’s been pre-weathered. It’s pretty good work. The designs aren’t always very precise. There aren’t enough fingers on some of the hands and some of the arms are too long. And most of the fountains are never on: I guess turning them on would cost too much money.”
“The people in Tiandoucheng seem quite happy. This man is doing water calligraphy, something you see everywhere in China. People use giant brushes to write out poems on the ground: it’s a sort of legal graffiti because it just dries out in the sun. Despite the extraordinary surroundings, life goes on as normal. And, fascinatingly, many of the people I’ve spoken to over my visits don’t know that their town is actually modelled on Paris.”
“Tiandoucheng has been called a ghost town in the past, but I wouldn’t call it that any more. But it is a symptom of the Chinese slowdown over the last couple of years. It just hit the point at which they couldn’t find enough people to live there. If they had built it just a few years later it would have been 100 percent unoccupied. It looks like Hangzhou isn’t going to grow out to Tiandoucheng, like other cities in the south have grown towards their satellite towns. This doesn’t mean that China is losing its position, just that it’s slowing down. It’s doing so with serenity. And no one in Tiandoucheng at least seems to be panicking about the fact that their town is pretty much half empty.”
To see more of Tiandoucheng, purchase issue DG #17 in our shop.
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