Every half hour, every weekend, the Wuqing (武清) high speed railway station fills to bursting point with newly arrived passengers. It’s a 20-minute trip on the bullet train, and a flyover pass decorated with Romanesque statues channels them over to “Florentia Village”, the biggest outlet mall in North China. Built with an investment of one billion RMB, it is meant to resemble a “16th century Italian town”, with its winding alleyways, a “Roman Square”, and an artificial river complete with gondolas.
Middle class shoppers pack the alleyways and stream into their favorite designer shops—Gucci, Prada, and Coach. In 2014, a new shopping center “Venice City” sprang up right beside “Florentia”. Under and beyond these monuments to consumerism is the ghost of communities that vanished to make way for modernity—the specter at the food court.
For outsiders, the mall is perhaps the only major attraction of Wuqing. Administratively belonging to Tianjin City, Wuqing District is only 60 kilometers away from Beijing’s Fifth Ring Road. Wuqing’s governmental website prides itself on its location as “at the very heart of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area”.
A bridge crosses a canal that flows through the center of the Florentia Village in the district of Wuqing, located on the outskirts of the city of Tianjin, on June 13, 2012. The shopping center, which replicates old Italian-style architecture, covers an area of some 200,000 square meters, and was constructed on a former corn field at an estimated cost of US$220 million. (Reuters/David Gray)