From Michelangelos to an Entire Alpine Hamlet, China Sets Out to Clone Western Cultural Heritage

From Michelangelos to an Entire Alpine Hamlet, China Sets Out to Clone Western Cultural Heritage
Before long, China may have more Michelangelos than Florence. Shanghai's Heng Yuan Xiang Art Museum has announced plans to replicate in bronze Michelangelo's Medici Tomb sculptures of "Day," "Night," "Twilight," and "Dawn" this August. Six sets of them, in fact.

The plans come as part of the declaration of 2011 as the "Italian Year in China," which parallels Italy's own current "Chinese Culture Year." The concurrent celebrations are intended to spread cultural awareness, diplomatic partnership, and tourism among the two countries. (Okay, so mostly just tourism.) "Some Italians associate Chinese culture to immigrant restaurants but there's much more to this, in the same way as Italians are not just pizza," Mario Resca, director of the Italian Culture Ministry, told China Daily.

This isn't the first time the two countries have engaged in mutual, year-long celebration of one another. The inaugural festivities took pace in 2006 when Italy sent an identical bronze replica of Michelangelo's David to the Chinese port city of Ningbo in exchange for two stone lions. Now, the stakes are getting higher. What in the world will the Heng Yuan Xiang Art Museum do with six sets of Michelangelo statuary?

Though the Times of India suggests that the extra copies will be sold, museum spokesman Guo Jianchen did not disclose the sale price or the identity of potential buyers. While the large number of replicas seems even odder than their existence in the first place, the appearance of these Buonnaroti brothers and sisters is not all that unprecedented.

In the past few years, China has become infamous for the mass reproduction of western masterpieces, paying artists to recreate actual oil on canvas paintings stroke by stroke. These copies are churned out in the thousands and include works by everyone from Cézanne to Rembrandt. A quick Google search reveals you can own your own "Starry Night" in a wide range of sizes. An 8-by-10 is a mere $19, while a 72-by-57 is going to put you back $164. You can also request a custom size.

But the Chinese replication madness doesn't stop with the plastic arts — it also extends to whole cities. Earlier this month, the Austrian media announced that the Austrian village of Hallstatt, population 800, would be rebuilt in China's richest province Guangdong. UNESCO officials have claimed that the plans, which were developed in secret, may be illegal because while replications are allowed to be built from photographs, any measurements of structures must be taken with the permission of the owner. The mayor of Hallstatt was "stunned, but not outraged," when he found out the plans for Hallstatt II were much farther along than he was led to believe, though he hopes it will be "a tourism motor."

Clones of Dorchester, Barcelona, and Venice have also been constructed in China. "Thames Town" outside of Shanghai is built to resemble a quaint English market town replete with cobblestone, red phone booths, and a cathedral. Destination wedding takes on a whole new meaning, as the town has become a popular spot for newlyweds to have portraits taken

While western audiences may be slightly miffed at the idea of such blatant and bronze imitation, perhaps the lesson to be learned from China is that one man's kitsch is another man's treasure