Beijing’s Biggest Fake

by Ray Ally on August 15, 2008


Photo: Ray Ally

The word ‘China’ and ‘fake’ is inextricably linked but has been out of the headlines for some time. With recent events at the opening ceremony this troubling aspect of China is now back again in the spotlight. The fake fireworks and fake singing has left a slightly sour taste in my mouth after what was a most spectacular show. However I wonder how many visitors, athletes and local have seen the biggest fake in Beijing – a building!

Living in China, the land of designer fakes nothing ever surprises me. Fake Rolex watches, Louis Vuitton handbags and Apple iPods can be found on almost every street corner in the centre of Beijing. The quality of most fakes is poor but the triple AAA quality ones are almost indistinguishable from the real thing.

So walking around at the weekend I stopped at a street corner and saw the ultimate fake product. Unbelievably this building is such a big fake I had to stand there for some time to believe my own eyes. Now this was not just any street, but Wangfujing Street, probably the most famous shopping street in the whole of China. It is the equivalent of Oxford Street in London or Times Square in New York, so a major draw for both Chinese and foreign tourists.

Now most product fakes are damaging to the original brand, infringe intellectual and creative copyright, impact on a companies profits and in some cases regarding food or medicine prove fatal. However, this fake is none of the above but brings a more positive visual benefit to the city.

The Beijing Government has been cleaning up the city and trying to improve the air quality before the start of the Olympics. One of its many initiatives has been to shut down building sites and halt all construction work. This has left sites empty with buildings half finished, resulting in unsightly and ugly unphotographic scenes.

Many areas in Beijing scheduled for future development have been completely bulldozed flat and then boarded up with colourful Olympic hoardings. Buildings that are around 20 years old have been totally repainted overnight so as to project a more modern face to the visitor.

In Wangfujing, one of the most prestigious retail and office areas, this huge fake building is actually a computer illustration. It has been printed on vinyl film glued to panels and attached onto the unfinished concrete skeleton of this eight-story building. The building site is huge and takes over five minutes to walk around the whole development.

However, what is so surprising is not just the scale of this fake but the quality and how realistic the building appears at first glance. It did make me wonder how many people rushing by this busy street corner even realised that they had just past Beijing’s biggest fake building.

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