Out of the wheat fields loom a line of imposing grey walls and fortified gates stretching into the distance. It is the historic city of Beijing, stern and strong, ready to protect the emperor from all intruders. But wait a minute. This is 1997, the emperor is long dead and the communists knocked down the ancient city walls of Beijing in the 1950s. No, this is a recreation of the walls and of many pieces of old China that you can no longer see, in what its builders call the country's biggest man-made tourist resort, an investment of US$200 million (about HK$1.55 billion) over an area of 2.2 square kilometres in the countryside between Beijing and Tianjin. 'Top City Under Heaven' will include a 100-metre-high pagoda, a 42-metre-long sleeping Buddha said to be the longest in the world, a 40-metre sculpture of two dragons playing with a pearl and replicas of four holy Buddhist mountains in the 'land of Buddhism and Taoism'. If you find that too dull, you can go to amusements that certainly did not exist in imperial Beijing - a roller-coaster, go-kart racing, wide-screen cinema, Animal World, electronic games, play 18 holes of golf, shop for antiques or take a 30-minute miniature train ride. Top City is the brainchild of CITIC Guoan Company, part of the giant China International Trust and Investment Corporation, which owns 35 per cent of the project. Wang Zidong, secretary-general of Top City, says the project, 52km from Beijing and 70km from Tianjin, has both commercial and social objectives. 'Beijing has 12 million residents and 71 million visitors a year. Tianjin has 10 million residents. Chinese have enough to eat and wear but do not earn enough to buy a car or an apartment or to go abroad. 'They are looking for places to go for entertainment. 'Our target is 13,000 visitors a day, 15 per cent of them foreigners,' he said, showing the pagodas and water shoots with a billiard cue in a large model of the facility. 'Foreigners like China's history, culture and scenery but have little time to spend. They can see it all here.' One tourist official said that the key issue for Top City was whether it had the right product mix, old China and modern entertainment, when tourists could visit the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven and other parts of the past still standing. 'My guess is that Top City will attract older people who are nostalgic about old Beijing and people with an interest in culture and history,' he said. 'But many young people are not interested. For them, going to the Ming Tombs and Forbidden City in Beijing is enough. The ancient walls of Beijing city were lost. We have built them again.' The new wall, a replica of the old, runs for 5,000 metres, eight metres wide and 7.15 metres high, with all the original 22 gates of the old wall reconstructed. The destruction of the walls in the 1950s stirred great emotions among Beijing people, with many arguing that it was a precious piece of the national heritage. The government argued that the wall was an obstacle to the construction of a modern city. Entry tickets will cost 68 yuan (HK$63) for the first phase, due to open in July with a preferential price of 40 yuan. Children will be half-price. When phase two is completed in 1999, the tickets are expected to cost 100 yuan. The project aims to attract not only tourists but also those holding business meetings, with hotel rooms built into the walls. There will be restaurants and shopping areas. Thanks to rising incomes and a five-day work-week, the domestic tourist market is enormous and growing. Official figures put spending nationwide by such tourists in 1996 at 160 billion yuan nearly double the amount spent by foreign tourists, and estimate the number of domestic tourists in 2000 at one billion, up from 650 million last year. Guoan expects to get the money back on its investment within eight years of opening. It cites the success of the Beijing World Park, on the outskirts of the capital, which recovered its investment of 150 million yuan within 15 months of opening in December 1993. An official of the World Park said the secret of its success was replicas of famous foreign places, such as the White House, Eiffel Tower and London Bridge, which it is impossible for most Chinese to visit. From November to March, the park attracts several hundred visitors a day and 4,000 a day from April onwards, when the weather improves, with an admission price of 40 yuan on weekdays and 48 yuan on weekends. The official said most other entertainment parks around Beijing, which include reconstructions of buildings of former dynasties, wax figures of Ming dynasty emperors and old Beijing courtyard houses, lose money because they do not have the right concept to attract people.