In a land where the benchmark index more than quadrupled in two years, does the Magic Kingdom really have a place? According to the Shanghai government, yes – although Disney itself seems more reticent.
I first read rumors of a Shanghai Disneyland in March 2006, when China Daily quoted the city’s mayor, Han Zheng, as saying a theme park was being planned.
“We have hoped to build a Disneyland theme park for a long time, but we are not sure when the construction will begin,” the report said. Han was talking to reporters in Beijing during the 10th National People’s Congress.
Then, nothing. Now, new, more detailed rumors have surfaced. AP did a story recently (it was carried on the website of Singapore’s subscription-only, no-free-archive Straits Times, and I can’t seem to find that story on the news aggregators) saying that a Disneyland for Shanghai has nearly been confirmed. All that’s left is approval from the central government. It even named possible sites for the park: Chongming Island or Chuansha in Pudong.
The evidence this time? The AP quoted an anonymous source in the city government, and also pointed to a quote by city official Qian Weizhong in the online edition of “state-run magazine Oriental Outlook”: “Once we have central government approval and a concrete plan, Shanghai Disneyland can begin construction right away.”
AP also pointed out that two “high-level executives” from a US Disney theme park had surveyed Chongming Island twice in early 2007. Disney has denied that a Shanghai park is in the works.
Interestingly, the report says public discussion of Shanghai Disneyland was suspended after the pension fund scandal that took down former city party boss Chen Liangyu shook the city in 2006.
That theory would explain a few things. Han Zheng was only recently officially let off the hook – this Reuters report says he’s been allowed to keep his job despite being implicated in the pension fund abuse probe. There’s a new party boss (former construction minister Yu Zhengsheng) in town, and anointing a Disneyland for his new jurisdiction would surely be a nice bonus – even if the heavy lifting for the deal began during Chen’s reign.
The set-up seems perfect: Chongming is already earmarked for the Dongtan eco-city project, which means Disney visitors won’t be choking on smog while they ride Space Mountain. It’ll be a major tourism boost for a city that desperately lacks top-class family entertainment venues. And Disney would get a major presence in the mainland market, introducing millions of newly minted middle-class Chinese to the joys of Mickey and co.
Although Shanghai and Hong Kong are two very different markets – and the parks will also surely be quite different, at least in terms of scale – the question remains: Will a Shanghai park end up like Disney’s Hong Kong venture, which isn’t exactly raking in the cash? Or will Disney conquer China with all-American values and entertainment? It’s a small world, after all.