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19 July, 2024
 
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A unique slice of France in China

Exploring China's stunning Parisian-inspired suburb

In his posthumously published memoirs A Moveable Feast (1964), Ernest Hemingway famously wrote, "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." It appears one town in China has taken the Nobel laureate's words to heart, quite literally. Located in eastern China, Tianducheng would be like any other unassuming suburban sprawl in the country were it not for its uncanny resemblance to the French capital.

Construction on Tianducheng (an area just outside of Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province) began in 2007, and when completed several years later, the town, with its large-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower and Haussmann-inspired boulevards, featured an eerily similar aesthetic to the same Paris that Hemingway gushed over.

Hearing that China had built their own version of Paris would cause anyone to be interested. But Paris-based photographer Francois Prost isn't just anyone. He decided to travel to Tianducheng to document the town's re-creations of iconic Parisian sights. AD spoke with him to discern what initially drew him to the project of photographing the two cities, if he felt Tianducheng seemed Parisian in any way besides the architecture, and the differences that still exist between the two locations divided by some 5,760 miles.Image may contain City Urban Town Building Downtown Human Person Architecture Road High Rise and Metropolis

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Prost's idea for the project first started from an article he read in 2017 about an American journalist traveling throughout the U.S. for the purpose of visiting each American city named Paris (there are roughly 20 of them, according to Prost). "The journalist wanted to understand the origin, influence, and potential connections between these American cities and the real Paris," says Prost. "He soon came to the conclusion that people there were living as they would live anywhere else in U.S. and weren’t very sensitive about the origin of the naming of their town." This piqued Prost's interest. Shortly thereafter he decided to photograph every Eiffel Tower located around the world. But this idea proved to be too costly. That's when he remembered seeing China's version of Paris in a music video. From there, the project found wings.

two sets of couples stand before the Eiffel Tower in Paris and China.

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Much like in Paris (right), snapping wedding photos before Tianducheng's Eiffel Tower (left) is popular with couples. two buildings and streets pictured next to each other.

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When asked if other cultural elements outside of the Parisian architecture and urban design had seeped into Tianducheng, Prost explained that much of the city remained rooted in Chinese society: "People living in Tianducheng mainly go about their days as they would anywhere else in China. The suburb is home to mainly middle-class families." The photographer noticed it didn't have the same nightlife as the City of Light either. "People go to bed early and wake up early as well. In terms of food, the restaurants mainly serve traditional Chinese dishes." two cleaning staff members in China and in Paris.

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Two members of the street-cleaning staff: On the left is a woman in China, while on the right is a man working in Paris

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Eiffel Tower lit up at night in China and Paris.

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The Eiffel Tower lit up at night in Tianducheng (left) and Paris (right).

 two statues in fountains pictured next to each other.

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On the left is Tianducheng's iteration of the Versailles Neptune Fountain. On the right is the original one in France, which was completed in 1682.

two statues in fountains.

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Two fountains pictured side by side: The one on the left (in China) is surrounded by Haussmann-inspired architecture; on the right is the one in Paris.

two buildings next to each other one in China the other in France.

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When asked if he thinks more cities should start modeling their architecture on the designs from other, more famous cities, Prost has mixed emotions, saying: "Well, I try not to judge other people and other cultures. In Tianducheng, I think it says a lot about the Chinese people in the sense that they were able to build this grand project in a very short amount of time. Yet, on the other end of it, I don't love this excessive admiration for European culture. It's a bit disconnected from how it actually is in Europe." As to whether he thinks Tianducheng will eventually find its own identity after being mirrored to one of the most famous cities in the world, Prost reponds, "Tianducheng's proper identity might likely evolve over the next half-century. A lot of that, however, depends on what the people living there during that time make of it. It's their city to mold."

 two statues in gardens.

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The Jardin des Tuileries is a famous public garden in Paris. Located in the in the 1st arrondissement of the city, there are many beautiful statues (as seen on the right). On the left is Tianducheng's version of the same scene, with the statues placed within a serene garden.

two pictures of the Mona Lisa side by side.

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Even Leonardo da Vinci's famous Mona Lisa has found its place in Tianducheng (left)

Two street lamps standing next to each other.

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Two street lamps standing next to each other: one in a square in China (left), the other in Paris (right). two people sell small gifts to tourists.

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On the left a woman sells small gifts for tourists in China beneath Tianducheng's version of the Eiffel Tower, while a man (right) does the same thing next to the original structure in Paris. 

an aerial view of two cities side by side.

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An aerial view of the two versions of Paris side by side (the real one in France is on the right). Approximately 10,000 people live in Tianducheng (left), who primarily commute from this suburb to go to their jobs.

two statues side by side.

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To the right is a statue in Paris's Louvre Museum (the world's largest museum), and to the left is its replica in China.

two fountains next to each other.

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Two nearly identical fountains pictured next to each other: The original one, which can be found in Versailles, is on the right. two pieces of urban furniture in the streets.

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Even seemingly minute details, such as pieces of urban furniture, didn't miss the planning process in China (left).a lifesized replica of Versailles on the left and to the right are the actual grounds near Paris.

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On the left is a life-size replica of Versailles (in China). To the right are the actual grounds near Paris.two images of the interior of the Palace of Versailles one in Paris and the other in China.

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Built by Louis XIII in 1624, the Palace of Versailles (right) has been a staple for tourists to make the 12-mile trip from Paris to visit. China's version, designed nearly 400 years later, is eerily similar (left).

 two Eiffel Tower's side by side one in Paris and one in China.

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China's version of the famous Eiffel Tower is on the left, while the original structure in Paris is on the right.

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