Nic Cavell at Dissent:
In the time since Deng’s southern tour, an entire class of China’s own Disney-style “imagineers” have sought to recreate the success of Shenzhen’s pint-sized utopia: over 2,500 theme parks were built across China’s cities, suburbs, and farmlands between 1990 and 2005 alone. And as the number of theme park visitors increases each year, construction continues on new parks—from the Qiaobo Ice and Snow World, constructed with advanced irrigation in Beijing’s arid northern suburbs, to the pearl-like Polar Ocean World, which will bring 500 species of arctic animals and 20,000 species of fish to Shanghai, to Wild Duck Lake Resort of Kunming, Yunnan Province, which recently invested $800,000 in special effects equipment capable of recreating the iconic scenes from the Chinese blockbuster, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
The economic logic of this construction boom is a bit murky. Of the 2,500 parks constructed in China in less than two decades, hundreds have disappeared; of the 2,000 or so that remain, it is estimated that only around 10 percent are profitable. Still, according to a recent report, China’s restless imagineers are expected to build yet another fifty-nine theme parks and five water parks by 2020.
One explanation can be found in the increasingly prevalent use of what experts call the “park plus real estate” model.