Czech mate

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 February, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 February, 2004, 12:00am

In June 2002, a Shanghai developer named Tu Haiming went with a business delegation to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic and one of the best preserved cities in Europe.

Mr Tu fell in love with what he saw and decided to build a replica in his home town. And so from April this year, you can buy a house or apartment from 40 buildings due for completion in April in the Qingpu district on the outskirts of Shanghai.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus will visit the site if he comes on a state visit in April, as is very probable, according to the embassy in Beijing.

Mr Tu hired five Czech architects to design the houses, but it will not be an exact copy of the medieval city. 'We are using Prague as an inspiration for the Shanghai project, not an exact copy,' said Vlado Milunic, one of the five designers. This means that it will be modern architecture, drawing on European traditions.

He said Mr Tu had been very impressed by the mix of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles of Prague. Mr Tu's Haodu Property Development Company is importing some building materials from the Czech Republic, including bathroom fixtures, electrical fittings and furniture.

Residents should also be able to buy Czech beer and glass, since such speciality shops are part of the plan.

Unfortunately, they will not be able to see a replica of the Charles Bridge, or some of Prague's historical buildings, such as the Kinsky Palace that overlooks the town square. Mr Tu and the five architects envisioned these in their initial planning, but commercial reality ruled them out.

It is the first 'Czech project' in China, which is why it has been embraced with such enthusiasm by the Czech government, eager to stake its place amid the flood of foreign investment here.

When he was in Prague, Mr Tu was received by the chairman of the Czech parliament and invited to speak on national television. Once he has finished his project, he plans to build a Suzhou garden in Prague.

Born in Shanghai in November 1961, Mr Tu graduated from the news department of Fudan university in August 1983 and followed his mother into the Liberation Daily, one of the city's oldest newspapers, where she had worked for 40 years.

He worked there as a journalist for six years, before settling in Hong Kong in November 1989. After a year as a magazine editor, he decided to go into property and from 1992 went into the market in his home town.

Mr Tu's project may help arouse local interest in a country of which his countrymen know very little, if anything, but which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in eastern Europe.

An official of Spring & Autumn Travel, one of Shanghai's biggest tour companies, said that the Czech Republic did not issue tourist visas to Chinese, so it had not organised any tours there.

In the meantime, you can go to Puxi instead.