Why Is There a Fake Pentagon in China?

Introducing the world of Shanzhai

'The Pentagon' Replica Built In Shanghai
••• VCG / Stringer/Getty Images

It's no secret that China is a leader in all things fake, from designer goods, to electronics, to eggs—yes, that's true, but it's a topic for another article. Counterfeiting is not only a ubiquitous symbol of China abroad, but also within Chinese culture, to the extent that there's a term for it: shān zhài or 山寨, which literally means "mountain stronghold," implying this case a mountain of fake goods too high for authorities to reach.

The term shanzhai can apply not only to goods, but people (celebrity lookalikes, whether by nature or plastic surgery) and even buildings. Like, say, the Pentagon.

Where in China's Fake Pentagon?

I'm not going to give away exactly what China's Pentagon replica is or why it exists just yet, but one clue I'll give you as to its purpose is its location: It's located not in Beijing, but Shanghai, which means that it's definitely not used for national defense. Another clue is that it's not very far from Shanghai Disneyland, which will open in June 2016.

What is China's Fake Pentagon?

Can you guess the revelation that's coming next? Another hint: If you know anything about China, the answer to what exactly China's fake Pentagon is won't surprise you. Yes, that's right—it's a mall.

Specifically, China's fake Pentagon is called "Pentagonal Mart," and is actually larger than the real Pentagon by more than two times—70 acres vs. 34.

for the one in Virginia. Unfortunately, while the actual Pentagon serves as the headquarters for the U.S. Department of Defense, and is an indispensable part of global security on a daily basis, China's fake Pentagon resembles many of China's other huge buildings in another way: It's completely empty.

Why is China's Fake Pentagon Abandoned?

The most obvious reason China's fake Pentagon remains unoccupied is its location. It sits in Nanhui District, in the southeastern part of Shanghai's outskirts, far not only from the city's most concentrated population center, but also from foreign visitors who might take a trip to the fake pentagon, if only for the sake of gawking at it. Couple this with the awkward design (the shanzhai skill of the architects notwithstanding) and you have a recipe for empty real estate.

Which is not to say that all hope is lost for Shanghai's fake Pentagon—far from it. Remember earlier in this article, when I mentioned that China's fake Pentagon sits only a few miles from the new Shanghai Disneyland resort that's supposed to open later this year? Well, local officials are hoping that overflow from said resort spills into the area where Pentagonal Mart is located, and breathes new life into it, first in the form of more curious tourists visiting the market and, eventually, shopkeepers and other entrepreneurs purchasing and renting stalls within it.

Wishful thinking? Without a doubt. China leads the world in empty buildings, to the extent that some experts characterize the Middle Kingdom as being in possession of "ghost cities." And that's just the mythology surrounding them, which says nothing about the greater implication of all the vacant real estate, i.e. China being on the cusp of a bubble that makes the '08 collapse in the U.S. look like a minor recession.

The Bottom Line

Hey, if there's going to be one building that defends an entire nation against the threat of destruction, even if it is the destruction of hope in a replica of an iconic building from one of its semi-adversaries, it might as well be the Pentagon. Speaking of which, where exactly is China's answer to the Pentagon—you know, the real one, where day-to-day defense operations take place? Alas, this might be a topic for another article.