59-year-old Liu Chonghua is the latest to join a string of wealthy Chinese businessmen with eccentric hobbies. Liu is spending millions of dollars building fake European castles in the megacity of Chongqing. And get this – he copies the designs out of a book of castle pictures he keeps in his office.
One of the castles Liu built is a gray stone structure resembling Britain’s Windsor Castle. The only difference – the Chinese version is surrounded by lush green paddy fields. Another one is a red brick fairytale structure with soaring spires, inspired by the Disney movie, Aladdin. He also has a white castle with candy-colored towers, similar to 19th century Bavarian ‘Mad’ King Ludwig’s hilltop fantasy – Neuschwanstein.
Recreating foreign designs on Chinese soil might involve architectural challenges, but Liu’s team has dismissed them. Ma Wenneng, former soldier and now a construction worker, says, “Actually, European castles are really easy to build.”
Liu might seem crazy, but he is fulfilling his childhood dream. He grew up poor, with an empty stomach almost every single day. Ironically, he made his millions as a culinary businessman, feeding China’s growing appetite for baked confections. “When I was a child I heard stories about princes and castles,” he said. “I wanted to turn the castles of my dreams into something real.”
Unfortunately, Liu’s dreams have a few villains opposing them. He has received death threats and had arguments with the local officials of Chongqing, where he built six outlandish castles. But Liu remains unfazed by all this, and steady in his dream. “China needs castles,” he says, taking a stand against the vast stretches of identical apartments that have sprung up in the nation. “A city needs people who have dreams, to help society develop.”
The Chinese government, unfortunately, has a different opinion. Liu says his lowest moment was when local officials sent diggers to knock down a 16-meter-high castle gate he installed. “The government has never appreciated me. They say I’ve offended them. I got anonymous phone calls from someone threatening to run me over with a car.”
Liu has absolutely no plans to stop building castles. “I have achieved half of my dream. The next part is building better and more awesome castles, the kind that will astound people.” He wants to keep going until he has made at least a 100. I hope he comes to no harm before that.