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Ronghui Chen
They’ve skyrocketed in popularity, but their long-term feasibility has government regulators worried.
MIDDLE MAGIC KINGDOM

Photos: China’s surreal, larger-than-life amusement parks

By Johnny Simon

As China’s middle class has ballooned, eclipsing that of the US in 2015, so have the massive theme parks sprouting up to capture the imaginations and wallets of these newly wealthy individuals.

The opulence of these amusement parks, as well as their diversity in themes, from tours through centuries of Chinese history to scale reproductions of European landmarks, inspired Chinese photographer Ronghui Chen. With a large format camera, he documented the parks in all their scale and splendor.

Taken primarily in southeastern China in 2015, his series, called “Runaway World,” captures a slightly headier times for the country’s amusement park industry. Attendance at the parks is still high and growing—sales, including tickets and other retail purchases at parks, grew 27% last year from the previous year. But Beijing is growing wary of these now-omnipresent temples to affluence, criticizing their overabundance and warning of impending market saturation in an official statement in April 2018.

In 2016, around 65 different theme parks were in various stages of development, according to Forbes, including collaborations with US brands like Universal and Lego. The Chinese government’s planning commission noted in their announcement that many of these parks were either poorly thought-out or just straight plagiarism. A Kunming theme park, Joyland, is known for its blatant rip-offs of Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft and Starcraft franchises.

Regardless of the copyright claims or long term sustainability of these parks, their dizzying size and ambition are truly in a league of their own. To capture their size, Chen climbed atop a six-foot (two-meter) ladder so his photos could take a broad view, placing the fantasy lands in the context of their surrounding. “It helps me to see the whole thing, like the real estate behind the theme park,” he said over email. “Behind the huge dinosaur sculptures is the towering real estate that truly represents this era.”

Ronghui Chen
Da Pengshan theme park in Cixi, Zhejiang province.
Ronghui Chen
Yancheng Spring and Autumn Paradise theme park in Wuxi, Jiangsu province.
Ronghui Chen
Da Pengshan theme park in Ningbo, Zhejiang province.
Ronghui Chen
Romon U-park in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, one of the biggest indoor theme parks in the world.
Ronghui Chen
Jiuhua theme park in Beijing.
Ronghui Chen
Global Dinosaur Town in Changzhou, Jiangsu province.
Ronghui Chen
Romon U-parkin Ningbo, Zhejiang province.
Ronghui Chen
Playa Maya theme park in Shanghai.
Ronghui Chen
Danshan theme park in Cixi, Zhejiang province.
Ronghui Chen
New Yuan Ming Palace theme park in Jinhua, Zhejiang province.
Ronghui Chen
Guangzhou and Hong Kong Street films set, part of the Hengdian World Studios theme park outside of Yiwu, in Zhejiang province. The theme park is 2,000-plus acre complex where more than 800 films and television shows have been shot. This set was built in August 1996 for the filming of the 1997 film “The Opium War.”
Ronghui Chen
A scale model of Beijing’s Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, at Hengdian World Studios in Yiwu, Zhejiang province.
Ronghui Chen
Guangzhou and Hong Kong Street at Hengdian World Studios.