HANGZHOU: As decorative fountains frame a view of the Eiffel Tower and a fashionable young woman walks a poodle nearby, you might mistake China's Tianducheng neighbourhood for Paris -- if not for the concrete towers in the distance and Chinese signs on every shopfront.

Built in the 2000s, the residential area lies on the outskirts of Hangzhou, the city hosting around 12,000 athletes for the Asian Games that open on Saturday -- a key stop for many of the world's top athletes before the Paris 2024 Olympics.

Tianducheng is a quirky relic of the country's turn-of-the-century craze for everything foreign.

Apartment blocks decorated with the City of Light’s iron balconies and mansard roofs flank a “boulevard” where motorised delivery tricycles zip past a braised duck-head stall.

Pensioners clutching plastic bags of groceries pause to take in the sights under a grey sky, while weathered horse statues rear up from a fountain that could have come out of the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Once advertised as a luxury community and a venue for French cultural festivals, Tianducheng languished for years with unfilled shop units and uninhabited apartments before Hangzhou's booming tech industry brought eager buyers to its leafy avenues.

The tower is one of many replicas of Western architecture that dot the country where developers once looked to Europe and North America for inspiration, including a British-inspired Thames Town in Shanghai and a subtropical Interlaken in tech hub Shenzhen.

And in Jujun, a 2001 development in outer Beijing that literally translates to “Orange County”, McMansions complete with parched lawns bring a slice of Southern California to the Chinese capital.

They are relics of a bygone era, with China’s communist leaders clamping down on “bizarre”, foreign-inspired structures in recent years. -AFP

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