On October 24, 2006, Thames Town opened in Songjiang New City, outside Shanghai, with residences, shops, and proliferous public amenities, aesthetically modeled on the style of traditional English architecture. Its welcome sign reads: “Welcome to Thames Town. Taste authentic British style of small town. Enjoy sunlight, enjoy nature, enjoy your life & holiday. Dreaming of Britain, Live in Thames Town. [sic]” Thames Town is one of nine new towns planned by the Shanghai Municipal Government since 2001 to relieve the pressures of its growing population. Each of these nine new towns is based on the design styles and principles of another country, another time period, or both. Two emulate the styles of historical Chinese towns, one is made to appear like a contemporary Canadian city, and the remaining six copy with varying degrees of accuracy the ‘style’ of western European cities (Lim 2006; Thames Town 2007b). Time magazine reported that these “satellite cities will draw so much inspiration from Britain, Italy, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Holland and Canada that one urban planning official announced in a 2002 press circular that ‘foreign visitors will not be able to tell where Europe ends and China begins’ ” (Beech and Bu 2005). Another reporter observed that the only thing missing from the reproduction was a Chinese take-away (Burchell 2006). But even before it opened, the British press, and one particular shop owner in the town of Lyme Regis in southwestern England, were quite surprised. A fascinating case study of both westerndominated globalization and a kind of reverse colonialism, these cities, and in particular Thames Town – the first to be completed – represent quite literally the advance of the Huis Ten Bosch model into everyday life. When fully occupied, Thames Town will be the eventual home to 8000 residents, and includes an Anglican-styled church, kindergarten, school, health clinic, cultural center, and supermarket. The town’s promotional website claims
But where the 19th-century British settlements of Shanghai once marginalized the indigenous Chinese, Thames Town provides a way for the modern Shanghai resident to re-occupy this occupation visually, historically, and, in an odd way, perhaps even counter-culturally.