Thursday, November 12, 2009

Taking the Mickey Out of Hong Kong

By Chip Tsao | published Nov 12, 2009

Disneyland has finally been seduced by Shanghai into building a theme park in Pudong. No doubt this is a humiliating case of economic betrayal to the Hong Kong SAR government, but their response has been surprisingly humble. The Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Rita Lau, welcomed the decision and predicted that the two theme parks would be “complementary to each other.” Not a word of protest. How dare she? This is akin to adultery committed between a treacherous gweilo—in this case, the Walt Disney CEO in Los Angeles—with her motherland.

The theory has it that with a 1.3 billion-strong population wanting to be enlightened with the right-wing conservative American Republican values that lurk beneath the commercial smile of Walt Disney, the dark icon also known for supporting Senator McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt in the early 1950s, China is plenty big enough to support two Disneylands. It sounds great, kind of like the United States being able to competently fight two wars at the same time, as Dick Cheney once bragged about. But is it too much cultural imperialistic complacency?

Will Shanghai Disneyland make any money? If you are mesmerized by the sheer figure of 1.3 billion, the answer would appear to be a definite yes. But it’s not just business. By invading Shanghai, the Americans are declaring war on China by building an ideological factory to counter-brainwash Chinese children, who are currently subject to a nationalistic education and a resurrection of Maoist indoctrination. Unlike the American middle class, for whom Mickey Mouse, Snow White and Buzz Lightyear are household names, the Chinese have little sentimental affiliation with Walt Disney’s characters. Chinese parents and children are unlikely to be moved to tears when they see Bambi’s mother being shot—more likely, they’ll think of venison. The image of Donald Duck serves as a good reminder that a Peking duck needs to be force-fed before being roasted. And the nuisance of Pluto’s incessant barking can be settled once he’s made into a hot bowl of dog-meat broth brewed with ginger and spring onion, a traditional Cantonese dish served in November once the weather gets cold.

Opening a Disneyland in Shanghai is thus a decision braver than when the peasant girl Mulan saves her emperor-father’s throne from the barbarians, more exotic than the love affairs between Mowgli and Shanti in “The Jungle Book,” and definitely more dangerous than the fornication between Pocahontas and John Smith. It involves hard mould-breaking work. At a time when the theme park business is in worldwide decline, I wish Shanghai Disneyland good luck with its new expedition to spur a renaissance in China. Let’s hope it’s not digging its grave in a remote land, singing a hymn from one of its heroines: “You think I’m an ignorant savage, and you’ve been to so many places. You think the only people who are people, are the people who look and think like you. But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew.”

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