After being world famous for making clones of gadgets and garments, the Chinese are doing it again, in a new style this time. They are making a copy of a whole village situated in Alphine!

The Austrian village of Hallstatt is known for its wooden chalets, ancient churches and breathtaking panoramic views over its own lake and the surrounding snow-capped Alps: Many describe it as the most beautiful lakeside village in the world, a local tourist board says. Its calm and serene view itself is enough to soothe one's mind.

The Chinese seem to agree with this fact more than anyone else in the world. It came more as  a shock than a surprise to Hallstatt's 800 residents when they came to know that a development corporation in the distant southern province of Guangdong is busy building a carbon copy of Hallstatt, which it has started advertising as a low density, high-end residential development with mountain and lake views, reported Independent on Monday.

Situated at the heart of Austria's Salzkammergut, the beauty of this village has earned it Unesco World Heritage site status. Interestingly, nobody had any idea the Chinese planned such a project, let alone they would go ahead and build it.

The people are not very amused that this has happened behind their backs, is how Hallstatt's mayor Alexander Scheutz put it. But I found myself confronted with a fait accompli. I am stunned, he admitted. Mr Scheutz said he had complained to Unesco about the Guangdong project.

A team of Chinese spies are suspected by Hallstatters to have mingled with 800,000 tourists who visit the village every year.  It's possible that they have taken hundreds of photographs for use as the basis for the housing scheme in the town of Huizhou, north of Hong Kong.

Monika Wenger, the proprietor of a 400-year-old inn in Hallstatt said most villagers she had talked to were outraged - not about the fact but the approach taken by the Chinese. I don't like the idea a team was here for years measuring, photographing and studying us, she said, I would have expected them to approach us directly - the whole thing reminds me of Big Brother.

The news broke out when Mrs Wenger found out about the Huizhou project earlier this month. A Chinese woman staying at her hotel allowed her to look at drawings she had of Hallstatt's market and other key landmarks which, she revealed, were due to be faithfully reproduced in China, the report said.

The Austrian authorities are still deciding how to deal with the news of Chinese plans.

Yet some of Hallstatt's residents admit they welcome the project because it gives the town publicity, which will attract more Chinese tourists. We are happy they find it beautiful enough to copy, said Ingrid Janu, who runs a souvenir stall.

In China, however, the cloning of European towns and villages is not only highly popular but big business. The city of Chengdu is proud of its British Town completed in 2005, which is modelled on Dorchester.

Crystal He, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Minmetals Corporation, which is building the Hallstatt copy, told the Associated Press the five-acre village would include a shop selling Austrian souvenirs. Homesick Caucasian people from Hong Kong will like it as well, she says.