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Can You Tell China’s Fake Paris Apart From Real Paris?

A new series places images from the French capital next to scenes from the city of Tianducheng.

Two men pose next to the Eiffel Tower, standing just far enough away that it looks like that they can put their hands on top of the famous monument.

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It’s a photo only a tourist would take–but these two men were touristing in two very different places. One of the Eiffel Towers is located in Paris. The other is a replica that’s a third of the original’s size, built in the suburbs of the Chinese city Tianducheng, on the outskirts of Hangzhou.

[Photo: François Prost]

The photos are from a new series called Paris Syndrome from the Paris-based photographer François Prost. The series places iconic scenes from the French capital side by side with similar buildings in China. The city of Tianducheng–also known as Sky City–is a luxury real estate development that was built in 2007 and has a fake Eiffel Tower, 11 square miles of Parisian-style buildings, and an expansive park modeled after Versailles. Prost spent a week in the Sky City photographing the architecture and the people who flock to it, before returning to Paris and spending months recreating the same scene in France.

There are shots down a wide French boulevard that’s lined with traditional Haussmann-era apartment buildings–one pair of images, both of which feature a French-style building, are distinguishable only because one building has a restaurant with a bright red facade, decorated with Chinese characters. Other shots depict classical Parisian public sculptures–like the fountain of Apollo at Versailles–next to their Chinese replicas, which often look slightly different from the original, creating something of a sculptural uncanny valley. There are even interior shots of the Mona Lisa and the famous portrait of King Louis XIV.

[Photo: Francois Prost]

Perhaps the best images are of people–the tourists doing typical tourist poses with the Eiffel Tower, the maintenance worker on the grounds of two different Versailles, people hawking their trinkets in the park. There are several images of newlyweds taking their wedding photos with the Eiffel Tower in the backdrop. Prost says that when he was in Tianducheng, he would see more than 10 couples being photographed every day in the parks and romantic boulevards of a Paris that was a lot closer to home.

This isn’t the only replica city in China–there’s also a small English village (complete with red phone booths), faux French chateaux, and a fake Venice (where Prost says he might do a sequel series). The photographs of Paris and fake Paris will be published in a book later this year. And now you know–when you’re in China, Paris is closer than you think.

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture.

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