Ziwei Cheng

Research project: Original Copies: Simulacra Cities in Contemporary Chinese Urbanism


Simulacra cities in China are urban spaces that faithfully recreate European cities, raising questions about authenticity, originality, and copying. This research aims to explore the evolution of simulacra cities since 2000 by investigating three principal research questions. It seeks to understand how authenticity is defined in contemporary urban spaces in China and the varied roles of simulacra cities. It aims to examine the relationship between simulacra cities and the history of Chinese art, architecture, and urbanism in terms of notions of copying, truth, and originality. Finally, the research investigates the perceived impact of simulacra cities on the communities and inhabitants' everyday life. The research methodology combines an analysis of primary and secondary sources documenting the inception and reception histories of simulacra cities, as well as research into the complex notions of authenticity in the history of art, architecture, and urbanism in China. The research will focus on three simulacra European cities on the outskirts of Shanghai, using archival and ethnographic research to explore lived experiences, perceptions, and memories of adaptations to urban transformations.

  • Research degree: PhD
  • Title of project: Original Copies: Simulacra Cities in Contemporary Chinese Urbanism
  • Research supervisor: Dr Christoph Lueder
  • Other research supervisor: Mr Austin Williams


I am a Chinese calligraphy practitioner, an architectural designer and a PhD student at the Kingston School of Art. I began my doctoral project in 2022, but it is rooted in several dissertations examining the implication of copying from different angles.

In 2018, my dissertation, Castle in the Dream, identified and explored the relationships between urban places and simulations such as Disney World. In 2021, my MRes research project used the practice of letterpress printing to explore and critique the nuanced relationship between notions of real and fake. My early publication questioned collective memories and examples of mass entertainment projecting into landscapes of power in contemporary China.

Since 2018 I have worked as an architectural assistant on various projects in residential housing and universities, highly engaging with the industry, offices, and clients. I participated in the renovation and refurbishment of Europe Disney in Paris, designing prototypes of ''Disney architecture''. 

Areas of research interest

  • Area and development studies
  • Simulacra cities and urban mimicry
  • Shanghai One-City-Nine-Towns
  • Original copies and authenticity
  • Chinese art and Shanshui


  • BA in Architecture, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, 2018
  • MA in Architecture, Royal College of Art, 2021
  • MRes in Architecture, Royal College of Art, 2022