Here’s a riddle fit for a Sphinx – why would developers in the northern city of Shijiazhuang build a life-size replica of the famous Egyptian monument (see photo) only to say that the plan was always to pull it down?
The reason being given for the demolition is that the iron-and-concrete structure was built for a TV series filmed in Hebei’s capital city. But information on the television production has been scanty. The more probable explanation is that the Sphinx was intended to attract tourists but that its promoters panicked when the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry got wind of the replica and threatened to lodge a formal complaint with the UN agency that protects cultural heritage.
“We will address UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova to inform her that the reproduction of the Sphinx harms the cultural heritage of Egypt where the statue is registered on the World Heritage List,” Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim insisted last Friday.
Tourism revenues, one of mainstays of the Egyptian economy, have dropped steeply in the last three years amid political unrest, and Cairo won’t want the Shijiazhuang Sphinx siphoning off potential visitors from China.
The chatter online suggested that this might already be happening. “There is Sphinx in Hebei, I will just go and have my photo taken there and everyone will think I have been to Egypt!” one person celebrated on weibo.
Another wrote: “Going to Shijiazhuang is a lot safer and cheaper than going all the way to see the original!”
China has copied other destinations in the past. In 2012 a developer in the southern province of Guangdong built a replica of the Austrian lake-side village of Hallstatt (see WiC114). Other famous reconstructions include a version of downtown Manhattan in Tianjin, a recreation of Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp Chapel in Zhengzhou (since torn down after furious protests from the French) and a copy of London’s Tower Bridge in Jiangsu.
Nor is it the first time that a seemingly irreverent attitude to Egyptian antiquity has got the Chinese into trouble. This time last year a Chinese teenager made headlines by carving his name into the walls of a 3,000 year-old temple in Luxor (see WiC195; his unimaginative graffiti: ‘Ding Jinhao was here’).
Now, as then, many Chinese newspapers adopted an outraged tone at Shijiazhuang’s effrontery.
In an article asking “Who will rescue us from our cultural laziness?” the Guangdong Daily fumed: “The Shijiazhuang Sphinx has resulted in total embarrassment for China. Not only did it reinforce our reputation as a ‘knock-off nation’ but it also makes the world see how neglectful we are of history and culture.”
WiC has to admit, though, that it looks like a reasonable copy.
Camel ride, anyone?
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