english town in china

Themes Town



lane suburban cobblestone
bronze square (2) supposed to
retire open air colonnade
lonely amenable all over (2)
odd pursuit catchphrase
soar Anglican phone booth
ethos icon (2) pick up (4)
scoff peculiar Tudor-style
novel environs ghost town
bet persuade long-term
accuse commute compared to
quirky sibling blockbuster
specks flock (2) doomsayers
inspire columnist undertake
acquire demolish occupancy
prove make way congregation
urban transplant






Oxford Street is a quiet, cobblestone lane with Tudor-style shop-fronts and what are supposed to look like gas lamps.

At one end, it opens up into a small square. A bronze statue of Winston Churchill stands in the open air colonnade of Themes’ Bar.

Seventy-four year old Mrs. Liu moved from northeast China to Themes Town three years ago to retire.

Mrs. Liu: “The environment and the weather are amenable. And people come from all over China for holiday here.

This is like a holiday village, especially on the weekend.

Many people come here to take wedding pictures. They come here for the English town.

When I first moved here, there were only a few people, and I felt lonely.

But now more and more people are coming here.”

President Xi Jinping has made the pursuit of the Chinese Dream his catchphrase.

Yet it’s foreign dreams that often inspire the city planners.

Themes Town has Victorian and Georgian style housing for 10,000 people, red, British-style phone booths, and perhaps oddest of all, a church with a spire that’s a close copy of a mid-nineteenth century Anglican one in Bristol.

Mrs. Liu, a Catholic, said it was the church that persuaded her to buy a house in the town.

A columnist in the Global Times, an English newspaper in Beijing, accused Shanghai officials of being unconcerned about cultural identity or national ethos.

For them, she said, the appeal of the foreign had come first.

Journalist: “Do you think it’s like England here?”
Policeman One: “People say it is the same as England here. The attractions are very similar.”
Policeman Two: “The streets look like your Thames Town in England. These houses are exactly the same.”
Policeman One: “The houses look the same, but not the church.”

Themes Town is often scoffed at as one of China’s most peculiar ghost towns. For years, its houses did remain largely empty.

Its town centers attracted far more citizens in search of a novel background for wedding photographs than it did Shanghainese in search of suburban homes.

But building a town in the environs of Shanghai, one of China’s most prosperous, is probably a good long-term bet.

Soaring property prices in the city center are forcing buyers ever further out.

Li Xibin moved to Themes Town in 2010 and now makes the one hour commute to Shanghai every day.

Li Xibin: “We moved here because my wife works in this area. Very close by. Compared to the old place we used to live, the environment is better. But other things are the same.”

Shanghai has a record of proving doomsayers wrong. Themes Town, and its quirky siblings are but tiny specks compared to vast in depth the city undertook in the 1990s, with the clearing of a semi-industrial, semi-rural area of tens of thousands of people to make way for a new financial center on the east side of the Huangdu River.

In 2000, this newspaper called the new Pudong Zone, a ghost town of a business district. It didn’t stay that way for long.

Now it’s an icon of China’s economic power: skyscrapers featured in Hollywood blockbusters.

New shops are opening in Themes Town, and residents say occupancy is picking up.

Three years ago, the church even acquired a congregation. The new flock was however, transplanted from a Catholic church nearby, that was demolished to make way for more urban growth.

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1. “Oxford Street” and “Themes Town” are in England, of course. True or false?

2. Who is Mrs. Liu? What did she do?

3. People come to Themes Town to drink beer and party in the pubs and clubs. Is this correct or wrong?

4. Is there an irony, paradox or contradiction between the Chinese Dream and Themes Town?

5. Themes Town was an instant hit with Chinese home buyers and seekers. Yes or no?

6. Is Themes Town cheaper or more expensive than Shanghai?

7. “Shanghai has a record of proving doomsayers wrong.” What do they mean by this? What is the best example?

8. Religion is connected to the growth and attraction of Themes Town. True or false?


A. Why did Shanghai developers build a traditional English-style city?

B. What do you think about China (and other non-Western nations) building replicas of European cities, towns and architecture?

C. How would you describe the architecture and ethos of your town or city?

D. Has your town or city changed over the course of its history?

E. Do you think every country should build theme towns, cities, districts or buildings of famous towns, cities and buildings in the world?

F. What is your favorite town, city or building?

E. What will happen in the future?

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