China’s richest man, Wanda Group CEO Wang Jianlin, has declared war on Disneyland

Building his kingdom.
Building his kingdom.
Image: Reuters/Jason Lee
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China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, wants to make sure the Magic Kingdom doesn’t make any money in China.

In an interview with Chinese talk show host Chen Luyu that aired on Aug. 26, the billionaire behind real estate giant Dalian Wanda Group showed off his Beijing headquarters, and shared a vision of destroying his best-known competition by outbuilding them.

Wang said he hoped to make the mainland’s first Disneyland, which opened in Shanghai on June 16, “unprofitable in the coming two decades.” Wang, the world’s biggest commercial real estate developer, opened a rival amusement park complex that cost 22 billion yuan ($3.3 billion) (link in Chinese) in third-tier city Nanchang days after Disneyland’s China debut.

Wang said Wanda plans to build 15 similar amusement park complexes in China and three to five abroad before 2020. His newest, in Hefei, northern China, cost over 35 billion yuan (link in Chinese) and will be welcoming guests from Sept. 24. Wang compared his strategy to playing mahjong, saying, “If Disney wants to win a hand, we will intercept it by building amusement parks.”

Wanda’s theme park and Disney’s have already clashed: After characters that looked like Snow White and Captain America were spotted at the Wanda park, Disney said it would “take action” to protect its own intellectual property.

Wang’s ultimate goal, he said during the recent interview, is to “change the world where rules are set by foreigners.” In other words, Chinese should make the final calls.

He also criticized Chinese people who go to Disneyland, using an idiom that means “to be crazy about foreign things and obsequious to foreigners,” adding that “the once-glorified Disneyland is part of the past.”

Wang embarked on a frantic acquisition spree four years ago and has not slowed down since. He is now worth $30 billion, after spending $2.6 billion for the world’s second-biggest theater group AMC in 2012, $52 million for a 20% stake in Spanish soccer team Atletico Madrid in January 2015, and $3.5 billion for Hollywood film studio Legendary Entertainment a year later, among other deals.

Some of China’s netizens said they found Wang’s comments xenophobic (link in Chinese, registration required). “I am sorry, but what is Wanda?” wrote one. “People will spend money going to Disney in China no matter how expensive it is because it has a brand value… How can you just use a financial statement to downplay Disney’s cultural influence?”

The first part of the interview is available on YouTube, but there are no subtitles in English: