Counterfeit Paradises



Peak Consumption at the New Century Global Centre Goes in Chengdu

The New Century Global Center is the largest building in the world in terms of floor space.

The opening of the New Century Global Centre marked a new pinnacle for temples of consumption in China. Catering to the 14 million constituents of Chengdu, it is the largest building on the planet in terms of floor space and hosts all the necessities for the “modern” and “harmonious” Chinese Dream. The bulky complex boasts apartments, offices, conference rooms, a university complex, luxury malls, a skating rink, an IMAX theatre, and two luxury hotels with “ocean views” of an artificial indoor beach flanked by a faux Mediterranean village. One could potentially live a full life under a single roof especially with a 500ft LCD screen in the water park projecting simulated sunsets. The opening of the complex this past summer was mired in controversy though, as the billionaire behind the project, Deng Hong, is now missing and presumed in police custody. More than fifty other government officials including the mayor of Chengdu were also detained in what appears to be a massive corruption scandal at the heart of one of China’s fastest growing metropolises. Such lavish projects are meant to cater to a rising tide of urban migrants looking to enact lavish consumer lifestyles in China’s rapidly expanding cities, but the New Century Global Centre seems to be another vehicle for the personal enrichment of a select group of businessmen and municipal officials. The management office of the building claims that all the spaces are sold, but it appears to be filling up very slowly. The future of the New Century Global Centre will be an interesting litmus test for similar outsized urban development projects across China.

The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.

The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.

The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.

A Zaha Hadid-designed art center will eventually be built across from the New Century Global Center.

A master model of the New Century Global Center sits on display for in the center's main office.

A massive atrium sits at the center of the New Century Global Center and houses the Paradise Island Waterpark.

The New Century Global Center is the largest building in the world.

The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.

The New Century Global Center houses a massive mall with both domestic and international brands.

The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.

The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.

The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.

The Lotte department store in the New Century Global Center contains dioramas and wall paintings for customers to pose with while shopping.

The Lotte department store in the New Century Global Center contains dioramas and wall paintings for customers to pose with while shopping.

The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.

The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.

The New Century Global Center is the largest building in the world.The New Century Global Center is the largest building in the world in terms of floor space.

A massive atrium sits at the center of the New Century Global Center and houses the Paradise Island Waterpark.

The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.



    Counterfeit Paradises in the Media

    Counterfeit Paradises is seeing a lot of play this year. So far it was featured in Bloomberg Businessweek in the United States, Wired in the United Kingdom, and Sonntagsblick Magazine in Switzerland. A big Stern feature will also show up in Germany sometime in the coming months. More importantly, I am in the midst of speaking to a number of publishers about a Counterfeit Paradises book. Hopefully more details will become apparent in the near future. Otherwise, check out an updated description of the project as well as an expanded cut here.

    Given the choice between a good hell and a counterfeit paradise, what will people choose? Whatever you say, many people will believe that a counterfeit paradise has got to be better than a good hell. Though at first they recognize that the paradise is bogus, they either don’t dare or wish to expose it as such. As time passes, they forget that it’s not real and actually begin to defend it, insisting that it’s the only paradise in existence.” – Chan Koonchung

    China’s grand development plan continues to grow at an unrelenting pace. It is undoubtedly the largest infrastructure buildout in the history of mankind. However, too much is at stake to slow down such a gargantuan economic force, even as cracks appear in it across the country. Pollution, relentless traffic, and corruption are now a daily part of urban life. Counterfeit Paradises explores these cracks through the “harmonious” cities and sites of leisure emerging throughout China. Such locations are shaping a greater architecture of materialism that gives rise to unsustainable consumer patterns. A billion more people in China cannot live in the same manner as urbanites in American and Europe. The pooled natural resources of the planet could not bear it. For now the Chinese nouveau riche partake in an imagined space of contentment even as reassuring political rhetoric regarding the trappings of their “modern” lifestyles wears thin. This fantasy plays out in many spaces: newfangled municipal districts, communist heritage sites, amusement parks, cultural institutions, and themed luxury residential developments. They all serve to prop up a consumer paradigm that is increasingly important to the short-term economic growth of China but detrimental to its long-term sustainability. The hopes and dreams of many are woven into such spurious ventures, even if in practice many of them remain underused. These fanciful but alienating terrains are the Counterfeit Paradises of China.

    Clippings from the Counterfeit Paradises project investigating urban development and leisure habits in China.

    Clippings from the Counterfeit Paradises project investigating urban development and leisure habits in China.

    Clippings from the Counterfeit Paradises project investigating urban development and leisure habits in China.

    Clippings from the Counterfeit Paradises project investigating urban development and leisure habits in China.

    Clippings from the Counterfeit Paradises project investigating urban development and leisure habits in China.

    Clippings from the Counterfeit Paradises project investigating urban development and leisure habits in China.

    Clippings from the Counterfeit Paradises project investigating urban development and leisure habits in China.



      Counterfeit Paradises: The Halstatt of China

      The new Hallstatt in Guangdong is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province.

      Hallstatt didn’t even see it coming. The UNESCO World Heritage village nestled against a pristine lake in the Austrian alps hosts thousands of tourists drawn to its picturesque setting. Still, it didn’t realize some of them were slowly taking its measurements in order to recreate it as a whole in China. The new Hallstatt is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province. Although possibly a compliment to the original Hallstatt’s idyllic nature, many of the residents were quite stunned by the development. A local hotel owner told The Telepgraph, “I don’t like the idea of knowing that a team was present here for years measuring, and photographing, and studying us. I would have expected them to approach us directly – the whole thing reminds of a bit of Big Brother is watching.” Although the core of the new Hallstatt is finished, the developers continue to frantically build the surrounding units in order to capitalize on the publicity. It’s success lies on the reception of the ersatz Halstatt centerpiece.

      The new Hallstatt in Guangdong is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province.

      The new Hallstatt in Guangdong is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province.

      The new Hallstatt in Guangdong is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province.

      The new Hallstatt in Guangdong is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province.

      The new Hallstatt in Guangdong is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province.

      The new Hallstatt in Guangdong is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province.

      The new Hallstatt in Guangdong is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province.

      The new Hallstatt in Guangdong is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province.



        Counterfeit Paradises: Minsk World Aircraft Carrier Theme Park

        Tourists pose in front of the Minsk World aircraft carrier theme park.

        Chinese nationalism continues to peak with the country’s emerging status as a world power, even if its military technology remains decades behind other nations. In 2012 the People’s Liberation Army christened its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which in actuality is a retrofitted Soviet aircraft carrier, the Varyag. Right now the Liaoning is still years away from being fully operational. It was only recently that a Chinese-manufactured J-15 fighter jet successfully landed on and took off from the aircraft carrier. In open battle the Liaoning would be a large, rather useless, sitting target, but symbolically it is still very potent. Such ex-Soviet aircraft carriers also see other uses in China, including the Minsk, which is now part of the Minsk World military theme park near Shenzhen. Here Chinese patrons can wander exhibits extolling the prowess of the People’s Liberation Army and indulge in other martial fantasies. It is the perfect place to fantasize about China’s future military potential, especially with all the saber rattling occurring over the Diaoyu Islands.

        A couple poses for wedding photographs on the deck of the Minsk World aircraft carrier theme park.

        An attendent walks off the Minsk World aircraft carrier theme park.

        Tourists inspect the deck of the Minsk World aircraft carrier theme park.

        A tourist poses in front of a fake naval backdrop in a hold on the Minsk World aircraft carrier theme park.

        An attendent takes a nap in the cafe at the Minsk World aircraft carrier theme park.

        Old military aircraft pepper the deck of the Minsk World aircraft carrier theme park.

        A stage set up on the deck of the Minsk World aircraft carrier theme park.

        Highrises stand along the shoreline across from the Minsk World aircraft carrier theme park.



          Counterfeit Paradises in GEO France

          Counterfeit Paradise debuts in GEO France - Chateau Montaigne

          My Counterfeit Paradises series made made a strong appearance in GEO France this summer. Fourteen pages of shanzhai awesomeness. The magazine commissioned me to shoot all of my favorite ersatz European developments around China. This is only part of the Counterfeit Paradises oeuvre as China’s grand development strategies continue to spread at an unrelenting pace. The series explores the cracks in “harmonious” cities coming into being throughout China, as well as sites of leisure and luxury now enjoyed by the urban elite. This nouveau riche partake in an imagined space of contentment and growth even as a gap widens between the promising rhetoric espoused by municipal governments regarding urban planning and actual implementation. This fantastical future plays out in many spaces including newfangled urban districts, cultural institutions, amusement parks, and themed residential developments. In practice, many remain underused, fanciful but alien terrains. Most of the hopes and dreams woven into this urban fabric remain false in nature. These are only a smattering of the many Counterfeit Paradises in China.

          Counterfeit Paradise debuts in GEO France - Tianducheng
          Counterfeit Paradise debuts in GEO France - Florentia Village
          Counterfeit Paradise debuts in GEO France - Little Holland
          Counterfeit Paradise debuts in GEO France - Thames Town
          Counterfeit Paradise debuts in GEO France - Weimar Town
          Counterfeit Paradise debuts in GEO France - Broad Corporate Campus



            “The God of Gamblers” – Macau Profile for The New Yorker

            Matthew Niederhauser's clipping for "The God of Gamblers" in The New Yorker

            Macau looms large on the iniquitous edges of Asia. It is a city of sin: filled with casinos, prostitutes and any other vice or luxury one could imagine. In many ways this is business as usual. Trafficking of women and general skullduggery date back to the earliest days of the Portuguese colony at the turn of the 16th century. Now the stakes are much higher though, and for many visitors, money is not an object. Macau currently draws the biggest “whales” in the world and most of these high rollers come straight out of mainland China. The increase in gambling revenues in Macau is unprecedented. Galaxy Entertainment tripled its profits during 2011, and the entire casino industry is already up 20% in the first quarter of this year compared to last. Macau outperforms the Las Vegas Strip nearly six times over and there is no end in sight.

            The already outrageous revenues posted by Macau casinos also appear to be the tip of the iceberg. It is largely acknowledged that a massive amount of cash moves through V.I.P. gambling rooms where high-stake bets are off the books. No one knows how deep that well goes. Money laundering and connections to triads run rampant through the “junkets” who shuttle wealthy mainland Chinese gamblers into Macau and collect their debts elsewhere in order to bypass currency limitations at the border. Macau is riding the tails of China’s economic boom and catering to the extravagant tastes of the Chinese nouveau riche looking to flex their often illicit financial muscles.

            At the top of the pyramid are two of the world’s richest men: Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson (also the largest contributor to Newt Gingrich’s campaign efforts). Both are in heated competition to rule Macau as their fortunes continue to skyrocket despite serious allegations of corruption and a spotty track record. A WikiLeaks spinoff called CasinoLeaks – Macau offers up condemning fare based on collected public records. Be sure to read Evan Osnos’ article in The New Yorker that features my photography. He does an amazing job navigating this intricate web of sordidness. More photographs that didn’t make the cut can be seen below.

            Patrons of Wynn Casino Macau gawk at the "Dragon of Fortune" that rises 28 feet out of the floor and symbolizes vitality, good fortune, and well-being.

            Children take photos of mermaids at the "Vquarium" in the City of Dreams.Patrons of Galaxy Macau gawk at the "Fortune Diamond" that emerges from a fountain with a light and music show in the main lobby every thirty minutes.Children take photos of mermaids at the "Vquarium" in the City of Dreams.

            Patrons of Galaxy Macau pose with the "Wishing Crystals" that are equipped with motion sensor technology that trigger special effects and bestow good luck on those nearby.Patrons of Wynn Casino Macau pose with the "Tree of Prosperity" that sports over 2,000 branches and 98,000 leaves composed of 24-karat gold and brass leaf - a true symbol of auspiciousness.Patrons of Wynn Casino Macau gawk at the "Dragon of Fortune" that rises 28 feet out of the floor and symbolizes vitality, good fortune, and well-being.

            Patrons of the Venetian Macau can take gondola rides through its giant indoor mall.The main casino floor of the City of Dreams is one of the largest in Macau.Patrons of the Venetian Macau can take gondola rides through its giant indoor mall.

            The pineapple-shaped Grand Lisboa towers over central Macau.A couple poses for wedding photographs outside the Venetian Macau.The pineapple-shaped Grand Lisboa towers over central Macau.



              Red China Rising: Bourgeoisie Tourism in the Communist Heartland

              A Mao Zedong effigy sits in front of a backdrop of his former home for tourist photos in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage site

              This is the second of a series of posts detailing the bourgeois practices of nouveau-riche, communist-heritage pilgrims who possess expectations and consumer desires that seem at odd with the core ideologies of the founding fathers of the Chinese Revolution. Armed with cash and a new sense of leisure, most of these fledgling tourists first make their way to Shaoshan/韶山, the birthplace of Mao Zedong. A slew of “red” products and trinkets are available around every corner even in the face of sincere reverence for founding Chinese Communist Party leaders that borderlines on idolization. Elderly tourists kowtow to statues of Mao Zedong while company retreats sing “red” songs and pledge oaths. These blind followers make easy prey for egregious tourist traps such as the Shao Yue Palace Maoist Family History Show, where attendants usher punters into Mao Zedong veneration halls, hand out lucky ornaments, ask them to bow to a Mao Zedong statue three times and then try to charge them for the “blessed” ornaments. Some estimate the value of the entire “red” industry at $1.5 billion dollars and Mao Zedong’s hometown is at the epicenter. Also check out the last post in the series on “The Defense of Yan’an” reenactment.

              A company tourist group pays reverence to Mao Zedong by bowing before his large statue near his former home in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage site

              Busts of Mao Zedong stand outside a "red" product store in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage siteTourists line up to enter Mao Zedong's former home while others take photos outside in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage siteStatues of Mao Zedong sit inside a "red" product store in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage site

              Attendants at the "Shao Yue Palace Maoist Family History Show" tout "red" products to tourists before ushering them into Mao Zedong veneration halls in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage siteTourists have been coming to Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage site, for almost fifty yearsA "red" product vendor sits at her stall near Mao Zedong's former home in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage site

              An advertisement to have your photo taken in traditional CCP soldier garb in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage siteA Mao Zedong effigy for tourist photos in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage siteRecreations of Mao Zedong's calligraphy for sale in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage site

              Tourists wait in a long line outside of Mao Zedong's former home while a tour guide in a pink jumpsuit talks on her cellphone in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage siteMao Zedong literature line the stalls near his former home in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage siteA child poses in front of Mao Zedong's former home in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage site



                Happy Magic Water Park in National Geographic

                Happy Magic Water Park in National Geographic

                It is with great pleasure to announce that a photograph from the Happy Magic Water Park series is in this month’s issue of National Geographic. I have been meeting with editors at the renowned magazine for over a year, and although it’s just a double-page spread, getting into National Geographic was one of those markers I set for myself a long time ago and definitely dreamed about as a kid. Hopefully it will lead to a full feature with them in the future. Also, fellow INSTITUTE photographer Richard Mosse has a spread from his amazing series Infra, which Aperture just published as a monograph. In celebration, I returned to my Happy Magic Water Park material and pulled out some photographs that I have never shown before. Check them out below.

                The Happy Magic Water Park in Beijing's Olympic Watercube

                The Happy Magic Water Park in Beijing's Olympic WatercubeThe Happy Magic Water Park in Beijing's Olympic Watercube

                The Happy Magic Water Park in Beijing's Olympic WatercubeThe Happy Magic Water Park in Beijing's Olympic Watercube



                  Selling Out History: China’s National Museum of Luxury

                  Paparazzi cue up on celebrities at the National Museum of China for the Bulgari - 125 Years of Italian Magnificence exhibition opening.

                  After a four-year, $380 million refurbishment, the National Museum of China finally opened its doors to the public as the largest exhibition space on the planet, beating out both the Louvre in Paris and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Even though now touted as one of the world’s premiere cultural institutions, it has failed to impress either international or domestic visitors with it’s shrill depiction of the history of the Chinese Communist Party in its centerpiece “The Road of Rejuvenation” exhibition. Key epochs such as the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution are left out of its glossy displays and poorly translated placards. Still, such a propagandistic history of modern China was expected in the first place. What really shocked many visitors was the blatant commercialization of the National Museum of China within its first two design exhibitions: “Louis Vuitton Voyages” and “Bulgari: 125 Years of Italian Magnificence.” Museum directors claim such exhibitions are revitalizing interest in the space, but it is more a sellout at the heart of the nation a stone’s throw from Mao Zedong’s tomb. Critics remain baffled as to how such a key cultural institution could blatantly promote such crass consumerism, especially surrounding the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party which was also linked to an exhibition of historical paintings adjacent to vintage Louis Vuitton trunks and sparkling Bulgari jewels. Such opulent items stand counter to the core ideologies of the founding fathers of the Chinese Communist Party celebrated a short distance away, as well as the core mission of the museum itself that is purportedly dedicated to promoting Chinese culture instead of foreign luxury brands. These photographs juxtapose the “The Road of Rejuvenation” and “Masterpieces of Modern Chinese Fine Arts” exhibitions advocating the socialist roots of the Chinese Communist Party with the champagne-fueled openings of the “Louis Vuitton Voyages” and “Bulgari: 125 Years of Italian Magnificence” exhibitions. Such paradoxes stand at the center of the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to rectify its embrace of rampant free-market consumerism with its socialist heritage.

                  Chinese Communist Party officials pose in front of paintings at at a special exhibition celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party at the National Museum of China.

                  Attendees photograph themselves at the National Museum of China during the Louis Vuitton Voyages exhibition opening.A painting depicts Mao Zedong with workers at a special exhibition of paintings celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party at the National Museum of China.Attendees photograph themselves at the National Museum of China during the Louis Vuitton Voyages exhibition opening.

                  A massive showcase room for vintage Louis Vuitton lies at the heart of the National Museum of China for the Louis Vuitton Voyages exhibition opening.A diorama shows the conditions of early industrial labor in China at the National Musuem of China's "Road of Rejuvination" exhibition.Attendees try to figure out how to use a camera at the National Musuem of China's "Road of Rejuvination" exhibition.

                  Celebrities show off their jewelry at the National Museum of China for the Bulgari - 125 Years of Italian Magnificence exhibition opening.A well-heeled crowd surrounds the central bar serving free Moet at the National Museum of China for the Louis Vuitton Voyages exhibition opening.A diorama shows advanced military technology at the National Musuem of China's "Road of Rejuvination" exhibition.

                  Attendees inspect a painting of Japanese troops massacring civilians during World War II at the National Musuem of China's "Road of Rejuvination" exhibition.A red carpet snakes up to the National Museum of China for the Bulgari - 125 Years of Italian Magnificence exhibition opening.Attendees crowd against display cases to inspect the jewelry at the National Museum of China for the Bulgari - 125 Years of Italian Magnificence exhibition opening.

                  A mural depicts the surrender of the Kuomintang at the National Musuem of China's "Road of Rejuvination" exhibition.A well-heeled crowd packs the main entrance hall at the National Museum of China for the Louis Vuitton Voyages exhibition opening.Attendees can inspect a recreation of the rostrum used by Mao Zedong to declare the foundation of the People's Republic of China at the National Musuem of China's "Road of Rejuvination" exhibition.

                  Contemporary art installations are scattered about the National Museum of China for the Louis Vuitton Voyages exhibition opening.



                    Thames Town: A Quaint Corner of Shanghai

                    The skyline of Thames Town includes a replica of the Saint Mary Redcliffe Church in Bristol and the Millenium Bridge in Norwich.

                    This place is well documented, but fits into my Counterfeit Paradises series as Shanghai remains one of the fastest growing cities on the planet. In order to keep up with demand, the municipal government must supply housing for up to 400,000 new residents every year. In an effort to provide a bit of flash and diversity to the monotony of Chinese urban sprawl, developers broke ground on Songjiang New City which included nine satellite villages utilizing design elements from various European countries. Thames Town, modeled after quaint English hamlets, was the centerpiece and eventually the largest debacle after failing to attract permanent residents. The English-themed restaurants and stores remain shuttered while the streets only see the passing of young couples posing for wedding photographs. Far from the hustle and bustle of downtown Shanghai, the Thames Town Church seems poised to continue without a congregation for the foreseeable future.

                    Bronzes of famous English figures dot Thames Town, incuding a pouty Winston Churchill.

                    Bronzes of famous English figures dot Thames Town, incuding a demure Princess Diana.An old man fishes on the artificial lake near the Thames Town yacht club.The most common sight on the streets of Thames Town are couples using the faux English environment for wedding photography.

                    The most common sight on the streets of Thames Town are couples using the faux English environment for wedding photography.Bronzes of famous English figures dot Thames Town, incuding the ever-popular Harry Potter.The most common sight on the streets of Thames Town are couples using the faux English environment for wedding photography.

                    The most common sight on the streets of Thames Town are couples using the faux English environment for wedding photography.Thames Town comes complete with identical English telephone boxes.Gated communities with expensive villas line the empty Thames Town business district.

                    A resident takes her dog for a walk in one of the gated developments that surround Thames Town.The most common sight on the streets of Thames Town are couples using the faux English environment for wedding photography.The suburban English villas sometimes incorporate Chinese elements such as this large stone marker for the house number.

                    The Thames Times offices never opened in the first place.Thames Town security all sport the same red outfits, but rarely find themselves busy.The chip shop in Thames Town was copied from a building in Dorset but closed down long ago.





                      All content © 2014 to Matthew Niederhauser