China's "White House" - PhMuseum

China's "White House"

WU GUOYONG

2019 - 2021

The “White House” in the title might not be an accurate name. Ivory walls, a crown-like dome, a triangular-roofed portico supported by Corinthian columns constitute the classic “United States Capitol” look. A lot of the Chinese people can’t tell the difference between the White House and Capitol Hill; they lump them together as the “White House”. Interestingly, this cloudy perception resembles the Chinese common understanding of the U.S.

The “White House” might be the most imitated structure in China. From public government buildings to private luxurious mansions, we see glimpses of the “White House” everywhere.

Most public buildings imitating the “White House” have been criticized by various sectors of society. Architects think that these buildings lack creativity and involve plagiarism, while civilians think they reflect graft, consume labor and taxpayers’ money. At times when local government officials fall out of power due to charges of corruption, these opinions are reinforced. On the other hand, the common belief that “White House” buildings cost more than other grandiose halls and mansions in China has not been proven true.

The aesthetic association of solemnity, grace and royalty, along with its political symbolism of power, obviously contributes to the prevalence of the “White House” design. However, we are unable to speculate which quality the owners and the designers were going for at the time of building exactly.

Among these almost identical looking “white house” edifices, courthouses account for a majority. We don't know if it has anything to do with the original concept of the “Capitol”. An intriguing fact is that, in terms of time, all these “White Houses” were built in the 40 years since China implemented reform and opening-up in 1979. In particular, the architecture sewing together the U.S. White House and China’s Hall of Prayers for Good Harvest is more like an insinuation of the U.S.-China relationship.

The uneasy truth is that, on one hand, these “White House” buildings are commonly despised, while on the other hand, they stand out amongst the bland skyscrapers. Now, they have become monuments to the awkward Sino–US. relations.

Beginning in July 2019, I spent more than a year traveling all over China, searching for more than 100 such White House-style buildings and looking for clues about the subtle influence of American culture and values on the Chinese people. The reality that Sino-US relations has hit a low point makes people lament about the unpredictable future between the two huge countries.

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  • 01 Shenzhen Window of the World Scaled-down Replica Park

    Operating since 1993

    In 1979, China started adopting the Reform and Open Up Policy. This artificial attraction in Shenzhen reproduced many renowned landmarks and catered to the curiosity of the Chinese majority who, at the time, wished to see the world but didn't have the opportunity. Upon opening, the attraction was at once packed. In fact, the city Shenzhen is itself a miracle of China’s Reform and Open Up.
    Reference : "Shenzhen Window of the World" official website

  • 02 “White House” Complex of Loudi, Hunan Government

    Operating since 2006

    The main building of the Loudi, Hunan government occupies 247 acres and cost more than 500 million yuan. To locals, it is known as the “White House Complex”. In July 2007, Shen Qinghua, the then-secretary general of the Loudi government, was shuanggui’ed (suspected of “violation of discipline” and investigated). The event was followed by a series of exposures of fiscal misconduct by the Loudi government during its relocation. 2 department officials, 5 divisional officers and more than 20 million yuan were involved. In December 2008, Shen was convicted of acceptance of bribes by trial court decision and sentenced to 14 years.
    The slogan behind the gate: “The city government officials of all levels shall roll up their sleeves, get dirty and do it like they mean it”
    Reference: China Youth Online, “Loudi, Hounan Government Relocation and Corruption.” Hu Fazhuo and Hong Kefei. 2013-11-1.

  • 03 Government Building of Yingyang District, Fuyang, Anhui

    Operating since 2003

    The notorious “Fuyang ‘White House’ Scandal” happened around the construction of this building; the then-District Party Secretary Zhang Zhi’an instigated the then-District Attorney General Wang Cheng to retaliate against Li Guofu, the whistleblower, and his family. Zhang and Wang pinned fabricated charges on Li and his family, leading Li to commit suicide. Zhang also accepted bribery in the amount of 3.59 million yuan during his term in office. In 2010, Zhang was sentenced to death with a 2-year execution delay by trial court decision. He was deprived of political rights for life and confiscated all personal property. Wang was convicted of retaliation and frame-up and sentenced to 6 years.
    Reference: Sina News "The secretary involved in the White House incident in Fuyang, Anhui sells officials after buying them", source "China Youth Daily", 2009-7-10, etc.

  • 04 Government Building of Yuhuatai District, Nanjing, Jiangsu
    Operating since 2009
    “I’d been a part of the entire drafting process of the construction of the Yanyutai government building, from judging, finalizing, to plan changing. The district officials wanted something grandiose, so plans were commissioned from across the country. A judging committee of experts was formed. Per usual, the experts were there to rate, not select, as selecting is always the job of the officials. We worked very hard to pick out the first, the second and the third. The officials looked at all three and were not happy about any of them. Then a renowned architect in Nanjing was invited to participate and delivered 3 plans, but the officials still didn't like any of them. After some digging, it turns out the highest district official wanted a building like the U.S. Capitol. The people in charge then ‘prescribed the cure for the condition’ and asked someone to draw a plan accordingly. The number one official finally approved.
    The design and the construction are the process, while the building is the final result that will forever live in our city. But the then number one official was probably promoted and moved to somewhere else. ‘The aesthetics of power’ has its definite influence on government buildings; otherwise, we wouldn't have so many strange buildings.”
    Reference: “City Memory—the story of the Yuhuatai, Nanjing Government Building.” by Huang Weikang,Professor of Architecture Department of Southeast University, former Deputy Director of Nanjing City Planning and Construction Committee Expert Advisory Committee ,Sina Blog, 2011-3-5.

  • 05 Shenyang Detention Center, Liaoning Province

    Operating since 2005

    The Shenyang Detention Center is located at the North West corner in the city of Shenyang. It is famously known as the “Prison Citadel” locally, or the prison. The main building of the detention center is white with blue domes, its architectural shape resembles the White House in the United States. Behind the detention center is a large courtyard, while in front is a wide spread of rice fields. Xie Yalong, Nan Yong, Yang Yimin and numerous other former officials from the Chinese Football Association used to be kept here.
    Reference: CN Hubei - Chutian Golden News, “Similar to the White House, Nan Yong, Xie Yalong are kept in this detention center”, 2010-9-13.

  • 06 Chengdu People’s Procuratorate Building, Sichuan Province

    Operating since 2006

    The statue of the goddess on the dome of the Chengdu People's Procuratorate building is a Chinese female figure, holding the "law" in his left hand and the sword in the right with his right hand. "Administering the country according to law" makes the law the "sword of Damocles" suspended above the head, uses the law to maintain social fairness and justice. This should be the designer's design philosophy.
    Reference: 1、Official website of "People's Procuratorate of Chengdu, Sichuan Province"
    2、BBS Forum, “Chengdu’s Procuratorate Building Looks More Glorious than the American White House”, username: edmund5,2005-11-2

  • 07 Chongqing High People’s Court Building

    Operating since 2002
    Liu Chuan, one of the architects of the building, said in a paper: "China has a long history of legal culture for 5000 years. It is a fine tradition of the Chinese people to punish the evil and promote the good. However, China has been shackled by feudal society for a long time. The rule of man is supreme, and it lacks the language of rule of law and humanism. If we use western classical architectural language, we can express the character of modern legal system more conveniently and clearly, and embody the connotation of solemnity, justice and democracy. For this reason, after many rounds and schemes of comparison, the project finally adopts the European classical treatment method, which makes the people's higher court of new Chongqing more endowed with unique quality and charm. "
    Reference:1、"Chongqing Court Network" official website
    2、"Chongqing Architecture" "Design of Trial Office Building of Chongqing Higher People's Court-Liu Chuan", 2003, etc

  • 08 Tongan District People’s Court Building, Xiamen, Fujian Province

    Operating since 2007

    The Tongan Court is located in the thousand-year-old city of Tongan that is rich in culture and history. The jurisdiction area covers 658 square kilometers with a population of 420,000 – an area of six towns and two streets. The Tongan Court was established in 1952. The existing trial office complex, which covers an area of 28 mu (113,312 square meters), has become one of the landmark buildings in Tongan because of its elegant architectural style. The slogan in front of the building reads: “Epidemic is the Order; Prevention is the Responsibility”.
    Reference: "Xiamen Tongan District People's Court" official website

  • 09 Yuhuan People’s Court Building, Zhejiang Province

    Operating since 2005

    The Yuhuan People’s Court building is not the first instance of a “Chinese White House”. Many courthouses in China imitates the architectural style of the American White House because they want the building to look impressive, majestic and exotic. It is indeed extravagant for a county level courthouse to look like a “Chinese White House”. Are these knockoff White Houses in line with Chinese regulations on court building?
    Reference: 1. "Zhejiang Yuhuan People's Court" official website
    2、Wenming.cn, “Why do these ‘Fake White Houses’ Look So ‘Arrogant’?”, 2013-12-21.

  • 10 Yunnan Normal University Business School, Huiyu Building

    Operating since 2012
    Referred to as the “Little White House”, the Huiyu Building of Yunnan Normal University Business School has fascinated many students with its glamorous exterior. Under the blue sky and surrounded by trees, the “Little White House” looks even more elegant underneath the sunlight. Yunnan Normal University is said to have the most “fashionable architectural style” among all Universities in Yunnan Province. When the photographer took this photo, the COVID-19 pandemic was slightly under control and the students had begun to return to campus. The campus security is strict on who can or cannot enter the campus, therefore, all packages have to be left at a specific area in front of the gate.

    Reference: Sohu News, “Best of Yunnan Universities”,2019-1-30.

  • 11 Liaoning Provincial College of Communication Library

    Operating since 1996
    The Northeast Communication University founded in 1951 was the former Liaoning Provincial College of Communication. In 1991, it was approved by the former State Education Commission and they renamed the school as the Liaoning Provincial College of Communication. In 2006, the school was identified by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance as one of the first 28 national model higher vocational construction colleges. The school library has a collection of 240,000 books and more than 1,000 kinds of Chinese and foreign periodicals, with audio-visual rooms and electronic reading rooms. It is referred to as a luxurious version of a White House “knockoff”.

    Reference: Fashion Sina, “Luxurious Version of a White House “Knockoff” found on the Campus of a Shenyang College”, 2011-1-24.

  • 12 Huawei White House, Bantian, Shenzhen

    his building numbered "E1" is an earlier R&D center of Huawei's Shenzhen headquarters. It is called "Huawei White House" because of the white exterior wall and Roman column triangular lintel. The Shenzhen branch of the thermal laboratory is dedicated to Highly integrated heat dissipation solution for the chip. This is just one corner of Huawei's global R&D centers and competence centers.
    Huawei is a high-tech benchmark company in China. It has the world's leading technology in the field of 5G communications and ranks 49st in the 2020 Fortune 500 list. On May 16, 2019, the United States included Huawei and its affiliates on the "entity list" for control, pushing Huawei to the forefront of the Sino-US trade war.

    Reference: Baiyue News, "Revealing Huawei's "Little White House": Where "Scary Technology" Was Born",2019-1-8

  • 13 Noble House Hotel, Sanya, Hainan

    Operating since 2000

    Sanya Noble House Hotel was once a three-star foreign-related tourist resort hotel. Anyone who has stayed at this hotel in Sanya is deeply impressed by the shape of the hotel's "White House". However, this hotel has been closed for more than 10 years. A citizen who lived in the annex for more than 20 years said that the hotel was booming at the time, and he did not know how to close the door. She missed the good times at that time.

    Reference: Baidu Encyclopedia, "Sanya Haomen Villa" word

  • 14 Miaoshan White House, Wuhan, Hubei
    Operating since 2005 but has not been put to normal use.
    The owner of this eye-catching White House-style building that looks like the United States Capitol, is a private company, Wuhan Hua Hin Investment Group. However, since it has not been renovated for more than ten years since its completion, the beige mottled exterior wall is damaged, and the building facade, iron gate and other facilities have also been damaged to varying degrees. The square in front of the building became a driving school, and the deserted courtyard was converted into a vegetable plot. The whole building is in reality an "empty shell".
    The advertisement on the door reads: Miaoshan White House, 9.9 Yuan for car wash, 99 yuan for maintenance, 99 yuan for paint job. Great price for repairs, guaranteed genuine accessories, will pay 1:10 if not genuine.

    Reference: Sina Hubei News Channel, "Wuhan White House-style European-style building was abandoned for more than ten years and reduced to a driving school and vegetable plot", 2015-11-9

  • 15 Former Mozhihua Group Office Building, Pinghu, Zhejiang
    Operating since 2008

    The owner of this building is entrepreneur Li Qinfu. Born in the local countryside, he rode the trend of reform and opening up, from clothing and printing to vacation and travel, delving into completely different industries and establishing his own empire with Mozhihua. In its heyday, this company was listed on China's A shares stock exchange and operated a branch in the Empire State Building in New York. The reason why the office building was built in the image of The White House is that his Japanese business partners greatly admired the United States. He also replaced the statue of the Statue of Liberty on the dome with the image of himself with his hands waving inwards, which is rumored to be an auspicious gesture that generates wealth. Back in the day Li Qinfu once met with former US President George W. Bush. and offered a business card printed with an imitated White House printed on it which surprised Mr. Bush.
    A local came over to chat while I was photographing. He said that Li Qinfu had sold this building to the town government and it will be used as the office building of the town government in the future. I asked what happened to Li Qinfu's statue on the roof? People in the town government seem unlikely to work under the shadow of Li Qinfu, right? “Of course, it must be demolished”, he replied.

    Reference materials: World Manager "Li Qinfu: Breakthrough is more important than consolidation" 2009-11-16 ,etc.

  • 16 Longmen Bay Distillery, Zhongxi Village, Yichuan, Henan

    Operating since 2015
    The White House building in the field is located in Zhongxi Industrial Park, Minggao Town, Yichuan County. The government of Minggao Town responded on the Internet that the building that looks similar to the “White House” mentioned by netizens is a distillery under construction in Zhongxi Village, Minggao Town, funded by a certain company in Luoyang in the alcohol industry.

    Reference: China News Service, "An imitated “White House” in Luoyang is actually a distillery under construction", reporter Li Xiaobo Dong Nan, 2015-10-9

  • 17 A public restroom in a winery factory, Fuyang, Anhui

    Operating since 2012

    This "White House" style public restroom has caused some controversy. According to a person in charge of the distillery, customers who come to the distillery come from all over the country. The first thing many people do when they arrive at the winery is to find a toilet. In order to give customers a good impression of the company, the company transformed and built this high-end public restroom, hoping to promote itself and gain publicity through this novel architectural style.

    References: Anhui Portal Wanjia Information, "Fuyang luxury public restroom resembles the “White House”, using novel architectural style to attract attention", 2014-5-19

  • 18 Farmer Xu Ling Private Villa, Qionghai, Hainan

    Operating since 2010

    Xu Ling is an authentic farmer in Niu Mianling Village, Zhongyuan Town, Qionghai City, Hainan Province. He only referred to a photo of the United States Capitol and figured out that he built the villa on his ancestral mountain, which caused a sensation in the local area. He has never been to the United States. He said it was just because he liked it. His house is full of European paintings and sculptures, showing his special aesthetic taste. "Isn't Hainan going to be an international tourist island? This house is also international." He said to me with a smile.

    Reference: On-site interview, 2020-7

  • 19 Former Beijing Geely College Library

    Operating since 2008, the dome is now being demolished
    This "White House" shaped library used to be a landmark building of the Beijing Geely College. It once appeared in the prime-time advertisement of China Central Television's "Weather Forecast" and became famous. At the end of 2019, Geely College moved to Chengdu, Sichuan. This campus was taken in by Peking University and became its Changping campus. The first thing Peking University did after taking over was to disassociate the library with the "White House", attempting to distance itself from the private school connotation the "White House" represents.The picture shows the library dome in the process of being demolished.
    References: Governor of Xinhua Road, Peking University took over Beijing Geely University and proceeded to remove the top of the "White House", 2019-12-30

  • 20 Great Wall Cultural and Creative Park, Shijiazhuang, Hebei

    Construction started in 2013 but has been halted, currently not open

    Shijiazhuang Great Wall Cultural and Creative Park is listed as a key project in Hebei Province, with a planned area of 3,100 acres and a total investment of 5 billion Yuan. It will consist of three “cities” (animation city, film and television city, online gaming city) and two parks (the World Culture Heritage Expo Park and the Longquan Temple Buddhist Culture Expo Park). Among them, the building that combines the Chinese New Year Hall and the “White House” into one building is quite controversial and is said to be one of a kind in the world. The 1:1 imitation sphinx statue in the park was demolished after the Egyptian Ministry of Culture brought this issue up at UNESCO. The park is currently deserted.

    Reference: Shijiazhuang News Network, "Zhao Ruiyong, the founder of Great Wall Film and Television, met with leaders of Luquan District. Six major highlights of the Shijiazhuang New Great Wall Film and Television Cultural and Creative Park are popular", 2018-12-6


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