Chinese tourists no longer have to fly all the way to Egypt to see the Sphinx, because now there’s a life-size one in their own backyard.
But instead of guarding a pyramid in the desert, as the Great Sphinx of Giza does, China’s version is sitting in northeastern Hebei province, located at the foot of the Taihang Mountains, a major mountain range in eastern China. The closest city is Luquan, population 430,000.
Video clips of the sphinx, currently under construction, surfaced this week, prompting plenty of online puzzling over how the phenomenon occurred. One video posted to the popular video-sharing site 56.com shows a busy road with cars and motorbikes, with the head of the mythical figure visible in the distance.
Workers involved in the project interviewed in the video, apparently shot by a curious passerby, said the statue was built to be exactly the same size as the one in Egypt, which stands at some 73.5 meters tall.
Almost 40,000 searches for the word “shishenrenmianxiang” (or lion-body-human-face statue in Chinese) were made on Weibo on Wednesday morning, with the word jumping to become one of the top-ten searches as netizens tried to find out how on earth a replica of the Sphinx had found its way to a small city in Hebei province.
The answer? It turns out the Sphinx is part of a new theme park that’s part designed to attract tourists, part intended for use as a movie set.
The project has been in the works for some time and is slated for completion in 2016. It’s being backed by an entertainment conglomerate based in southern China’s Hangzhou, which invested 5 billion yuan ($800 million) to build the theme park, according to the government of Shijiazhuang, which administers the city of Luquan.
The planned project, situated near a local touism attraction—the Dragon Spring Temple– also features a “world cultural heritage” park and some fake cityscapes to shoot movies, Shijiazhuang’s government said. It said the whole park will cover 207 hectares, adding that it hoped the project would bring tourists and help create jobs.
But backers of the park might want to be cautious, given the fate of similarly large-scale affairs. An $80 million effort to build a clock-themed park in southern China, for example, has just folded, one of many boondoggles in China that have suffered similar outcomes.
As photos of the Sphinx circulated online Wednesday, some netizens quipped that the project still had a long way to go. “If you have the ability, why don’t you also build a pyramid with the same size? ”one user wrote on Weibo.
Others joked that the Sphinx was an authentic specimen. “After 2000 years, archeologists have discovered a Sphinx in Shijiazhuang, and have since concluded that ancient Egyptians actually ended up moving to the Orient.”