Working Papers
PDF | Free | 43 pages
Download PDF

The Development of Copycat Towns in China

An Initial Analysis of Their Economic, Social, and Environmental Implications

Daniel Sui, Bo Zhao, and Hui Kong

October 2017, English

The great urban leap forward in China during the past four decades has dramatically transformed the Chinese landscape across the country as well as Chinese society in many profound ways. By situating the development of xenophilic copycat towns under the broader context of China’s four urban design and development motifs, this report presents an initial study of copycat/shanzhai towns in China through a mixed qualitative and quantitative approach. The qualitative data gathered through on-site interviews and observations reveal multiple unique and local circumstances for the development of these copycat towns while the quantitative analysis and mapping using big data analytics shed light for the first time on the national trend of this phenomena and its manifestations in the local real estate market. Furthermore, the way in which the development of copycat towns still follows the basic laws of supply and demand and market forces should be taken into full consideration. Most of the successful copycat towns covered in this report are either located near a large city, or have convenient transportation infrastructure that makes them accessible from nearby city centers. Violations in basic geography and economic laws have made a significant number of copycat towns into ghost towns. Compared to the conventional urban development models, copycat towns cost a lot more to build and develop, and they also tend to serve the relatively wealthy and powerful cohort of the population. Inadvertently, copycat towns in China have continued to widen the gap between the rich and poor as well as producing a huge environmental cost. This report calls for a fundamental shift in China’s real estate-led urban development land policy and property taxes to ensure the next phase of urban development in China will be economically efficient, social equitable, and environmental sustainable. Moving forward, we recommend a more pragmatic approach to the copycat town development in China by digging deeper into the reasons for their successes and failures.


Development, Land Use, Urban Development