Disney lands in Shanghai

09:39, April 09, 2011      

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Twenty-five years after Mickey Mouse first appeared on television screens on the Chinese mainland and won the hearts of children with his friendly personality and uniquely squeaky voice, the U.S.-based Walt Disney Company's iconic character finally kicked off his journey to greet fans in the world's most promising market.

Mickey mice and the Donald Duck are seen during a ceremony held to mark the start of construction work on the Shanghai Disneyland in Shanghai, east China, April 8, 2011. Construction work on the Shanghai Disney resort project began Friday. The Shanghai Disneyland theme park is scheduled for completion in five years. Supporting projects, including two hotels and retail and catering facilities, will also be built at an estimated cost of 4.5 billion yuan. (Xinhua/Ren Long)

On Friday, construction on the Shanghai Disney Resort project started after a morning project launch ceremony in the city's Pudong New Area.

The planned castle for the Shanghai Disney Resort promises to be the biggest and tallest of all the world's Disney theme parks, according to Robert Iger, President and CEO of the Walt Disney Company.

The ceremony began with traditional Chinese drumming, followed by a performance by a Chinese children's choir accompanied by 20 Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves -- all dressed in traditional Chinese costumes.

Covering an area of 1.16 square kilometers, the theme park inside the 3.9-sq-km Shanghai Disney Resort, will be the world's sixth Disney amusement park and the first one on the Chinese mainland. It will also be the third of its kind in Asia, after the company's theme parks in Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Investment in the Shanghai theme park is estimated at 24.5 billion yuan (3.7 billion U.S. dollars). The construction is scheduled for completion in five years.

Shanghai Shendi Group, which was registered in August 2010, joined hands with The Walt Disney Company to undertake in the development, construction, investment, operation and management of the theme park and related facilities.

They have established three joint-venture companies:

-- The Shanghai International Theme Park Co., Ltd., which is in charge of the theme park, with the Chinese side holding a 57 percent stake, and the American side holding the remaining 43 percent.

-- The Shanghai Theme Park Associated Facility Co., Ltd., which is responsible for supporting facilities, with the Chinese side holds a 57 percent stake, and the American side holds other 43 percent.

-- The Shanghai International Theme Park and Resort Zone Management Co., Ltd. is responsible for the project's operations management. The Chinese side, with 30 percent of the management company, is entitled to appoint board members, supervisors, a vice general manager and other senior executives to the company.

Both the Chinese and American sides have invested money into the project. No land-use or intellectual property rights have been used as stakes in the project.

Supporting facilities, including two hotels as well as retail and catering facilities, will be built at an estimated cost of 4.5 billion yuan.

The site of Shanghai Disneyland is 12 kilometers from Pudong International Airport. The planned 9.2 km metro line 11, will be built for the project.

The agreement for the Shanghai Disney project was signed in November 2010.


In 1986, Mickey Mouse, donning a pair of bright yellow shoes and red pants, debuted on the state-owned China Central Television (CCTV) in a cartoon series called "Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck."

According to an agreement reached by CCTV and The Walt Disney Company, the 104-episode series was broadcast every Sunday evening, with no rebroadcasting allowed.

"The Mickey Mouse series was the most impressive animation of my childhood. It made Sunday more special," said Ice Li, an IT worker in Beijing, adding that entertainment programs for children were extremely scarce at that time.

"The stories avoided sermonizing like some Chinese cartoons. But I often felt inspired after a hearty laugh," Li said.

"I never felt tired of watching Mickey Mouse and his friends on TV, and sometimes I even ignored supper," said Zhang Ling, a 31-year-old housewife in Shanghai.

The series ended in 1988, upsetting the Chinese audience aged three to 70, said Xu Jiacha, a former CCTV executive in charge of children's programming.

"We received numerous complaint letters," Xu recalls. "We didn't have the money to buy the rebroadcast rights, so I wrote a letter to our U.S. partner, enclosing copies of two complaint letters. They made an exception, allowing us to rebroadcast the series for free for half a year."

Huang Jiayun, Zhang Ling's daughter and a Mickey Mouse lover, is apparently luckier than her mother, who could only see the cartoon star on television.

The eight-year-old girl is spoiled with choice, as she can choose to read a Mickey Mouse-themed magazine, buy garments and stationery with the mouse's image from franchised dealers, or meet him online at the click of a mouse.


Disney cartoon stars hold popular appeal for children all over the world, as they transcend national boundaries and language barriers, said Ding Chun, a professor with the International Economic Research Institute of the Shanghai-based Fudan University.

"However, Disney entertainment was undoubtedly a luxury when food and clothing remained a challenge," Ding said.

Chinese people's desires for Disney culture flourished as the country's per capita gross domestic product (GDP) surged to about 4,000 U.S. dollars from less than 300 U.S. dollars three decades ago, he said.

In the 1980s, very few Chinese traveled abroad, said Jiang Wei, a media worker in Shanghai. "If your destination was the U.S. or Japan, local friends would probably offer you a tour of a nearby Disneyland, which was seen as a nice 'gift' for the guests who came all the way from China."

Today, flocks of Chinese tourists can be seen in Disney theme parks around the world, but especially in Hong Kong Disneyland.

"I clearly remember that every retail store in the park was crammed with tourists speaking Mandarin. I had to elbow my way out," said Ice Li, who visited Hong Kong Disneyland in August 2009, when mainland children were enjoying summer vocation.

The theme park welcomed more than 5.2 million visitors in 2010, 42 percent of which were from the Chinese mainland. The number of visitors from the Chinese mainland surged 32 percent year on year.

Earlier this year, the Walt Disney Company announced that it would open its first wholly-owned shop on the Chinese mainland in 2012.

"China remains one of our most important overseas markets, the revenue in the Chinese market doubled in the past five years," said Stanley Cheung, Managing Director of The Walt Disney Company, Greater China.

Xiao Lin, deputy head of the Shanghai Municipal Development and Reform Commission, said that the Disney project, one of the biggest investment projects in the service industry on the Chinese mainland over the past 30 years, will facilitate the formation of Shanghai's new industrial structure which puts a service sector at its core.

According to an analyst report produced by the research institute under the commission, the project is expected to directly or indirectly drive up more than 100 sectors in Shanghai. Tourism, modern commerce and trade, culture as well as shipping and logistics sectors will benefit most from it.

The Shanghai Disney Resort is expected to bring 18 billion yuan in annual revenue to the city's tourism sector, and another 6 billion yuan to the modern commerce and trade sector, which nearly adds up to the investment of the theme park, the report says.


Some experts regard the westernized entertainment represented by the Disney culture as a heavy blow to China's traditional culture, while many others consider such concerns unnecessary in an era of globalization.

"The building of Shanghai Disney shows that China has become more open to other cultures," Professor Ding said. "After all, the closed-door age has gone."

For a long time, China has adopted a prudent attitude toward the possibility of opening up its culture sector to the outside world. However, welcoming a Disneyland on the mainland reflects the nation's confidence in its own culture, said You Anshan, head of the Research Center of Hong Kong and Macao Affairs under the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

"The Shanghai Disneyland could serve as a mirror, as the popular Disney culture could provoke a sense of crisis and consideration on ways to develop and promote local cultures," You said.

In response to concerns over the possible competition between China's two Disneylands, Robert Iger showed confidence in the projects in both Shanghai and Hong Kong. He said that, given the country's huge population and vast territory, "China is more than capable of having two Disneylands."

For the young Shanghai Shendi Group, the project offers an opportunity to learn from the U.S. cartoon giant.

"A large amount of environmentally-friendly material will be used to build the theme park. We're surprised that even the water quality standards for artificial lakes are set very high. We have so much to learn from our U.S. partner," said a Shendi employee.

Source: Xinhua
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