Can Disneyland enchant Shanghai?

Time: 2016-06-16

Can Disneyland enchant Shanghai?

By Robin Brant

BBC Shanghai correspondent

More than 1,000 communist party officials have joined celebrations in Shanghai as Disney 
opens its first theme park in mainland China.

Disney's Chief Executive, Bob Iger, has described the project as the "biggest step" the 
company has ever taken. But there has been criticism in the Chinese media about the price 
visitors will have to pay.

It looks like a Disney park, with a huge "enchanted castle" anchored at the centre. It 
sounds like Disney, with a wave and a smiling hello - in English - from every staff member. 
And it feels like Disney - an escape from the real world. But park number six is different. 
This time Mickey Mouse - Me Low Shoe as he's known here - is Communist Party approved.
In pictures: The highs and lows of Disney Shanghai.

Mr Iger first came to the site 17 years ago, when it was wasteland on the outskirts of 
Shanghai. Last month he had the latest of several meetings with China's President Xi 
Jinping. Afterwards, Mr Iger revealed that the Communist Party general secretary has already 
been to three Disney parks.

It's taken years of painstaking negotiation and $5.5bn, but now Mr Iger has his China park - 
his legacy to the company he was supposed to have departed by now.
"From the moment they enter, everything they see and experience, the attractions, the food, 
the entertainment, down to the smallest level of detail, is instantly recognisable not only 
as authentically Disney but as distinctly Chinese," he told journalists at an opening day 

Those last few words are the mantra - the phrase he conceived to explain why and how this 
Disney is different.

But it comes at a price, which he wouldn't discuss with the BBC. Disney repeatedly refused 
our request for a sit-down interview. When I asked Mr Iger, as he left the opening event, if 
this Disney was only for China's wealthy he refused to answer the question.

When I asked if he was confident that the park was built without any corrupt practices he 
said nothing, and a security guard stopped me from going any further.

For some of the 10,000 staff behind the scenes on the 960 acre park, a day at Disney - 
without their uniform on - is beyond their reach. The cost for a couple with a child would 
likely be more than the average monthly disposable income in mainland China.

One ticket seller called Lee told me he was happy with his pay. But he couldn't talk about 
it. It wasn't "convenient" to discuss it, he said. It was similar for other staff. When I 
asked a young woman by her locker what she was paid, she replied: "I can't tell you."

Disney is unapologetic about it's "high end" food prices. It's all part of the battle for 
China's growing, richer middle class. It is a battle that the home-grown mega firm Wanda is 
up for. It opened a new resort town and familiar-looking theme park in the region just two 
weeks ago.

People like 40-year-old Yu Qi are a target for both. She said most of her friends had been 
to Disney parks abroad, "but for some reason we all believe that Disneyland in Shanghai will 
be the best".

Disney is banking on that sentiment. It hopes it will tempt people with its authentic 
offering. And there is lots to tempt 330 million people within a few hours' drive. So is it 
the real thing, or has Disney gone too far to ensure it gets its break in China?

On the surface, much is the same. There are rides that are common to Shanghai and other 
parks, and some that are unique to China. The food and the language are heavily influenced 
by Chinese tradition. But the overall feel is of the American offering. The big change is 
behind the scenes.

This is a joint venture, which is unusual for Disney. Like all firms looking to enter this 
market, Disney has gone into business with firms ultimately owned or controlled by the 
Shanghai government, which gets some of the profits and a lot of influence over how things 
look and how they're run.

It is, to borrow the phrase, a distinctly Chinese arrangement in an authentically Disney 

Security is one thing Disney insists will not change, though. Senior executives say there 
will be no police presence - uniformed or in plain clothes - inside the theme park, in 
keeping with the tradition at their other venues. Police representatives at a media briefing 
last month refused to confirm if that would be the case.

The above new from BBC News.

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