China’s newest answer to Disneyland is a mish-mash of Eastern and Western myth and fantasy

Hui Ka Yan owns China’s biggest property developer by sales.
Hui Ka Yan owns China’s biggest property developer by sales.
Image: Reuters/Bobby Yip
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It looks like the job of crushing Disneyland in China has been passed from one of the country’s richest men to another.

China Evergrande Group, a property developer based in southern China and majority-owned by billionaire Hui Ka Yan, announced Sunday (Aug. 27) that it would build 15 amusement parks across the country. Hui’s plans came not long after fellow property tycoon Wang Jianlin gave up on his ambition to beat the Magic Kingdom, as his Dalian Wanda Group offloaded its theme-park assets to reduce its debt burden last month.

Branded Children’s World, Evergrande’s theme parks will be scattered in second-tier cities including Changsha in central China, Guizhou in southwestern China, and two cities in eastern Zhejiang province, a drive of a few hours from Shanghai, where mainland China’s lone Disney resort is based. Each theme park aims to attract more than 15 million visitors and generate around $3 billion in revenue from tourism-related services annually, the company said in a statement (link in Chinese). Construction will be completed between 2019 and 2022.

Evergrande has unveiled several theme parks, each costing $7 billion, with local governments earlier this year, but on Sunday the Chinese developer more clearly billed its parks as a direct challenge to Disneyland in China. Evergrande said in the statement that each of its theme parks will host 33 large-scale rides, whereas a Disney theme park usually has just 18 to 22. It added that the Children’s World will be the world’s first “all-indoor, all-weather, all-season” large-scale theme park.

How does Evergrande hope to win Chinese hearts away from Mickey Mouse? The answer is a cocktail of Chinese and Western fantasies. According to Chinese media reports, Evergrande’s Children’s World will feature Chinese mythological characters as inspiration for rides including Chang’e, the goddess of the moon, and Pan Gu, a giant who created the universe. Meanwhile, parts of the theme parks will be devoted to Western figures including Greek god of the sea Poseidon, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland (many might associate Alice and Cinderella with Disney movies, but the characters are from stories in the public domain.)

Evergrande became China’s biggest property developer by sales last year, but its growth is fueled by high debt too. People who follow its business are skeptical that climbing aboard China’s theme park bandwagon is going to make for a fun ride.