Thursday, June 16, 2016

Disney is sharing the keys to its new Magic Kingdom in Shanghai with China's Communist Party

On Thursday,
the Walt Disney Company … opened its $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney Resort, a theme park and hotel complex that represents a hard-fought victory in China for the singularly American entertainment conglomerate
reports Brooks Barnes in the New York Times.
The park — Disney’s first on the Chinese mainland — was held up as nothing less than a historic symbol of United States-China relations. … So far, the park here has suffered none of the cultural missteps that marred Disney openings in France and Hong Kong over the decades.
In a previous lengthy report (slideshow) written by Barnes with David Barboza, it turns out that several rides were left out.
Disney substantially dialed back its demands. In addition to handing over a large piece of the profit, the control-obsessed company would give the government a role in running the park. Disney was also prepared to drop its longstanding insistence on a television channel.

 … But Disney is sharing the keys to the Magic Kingdom with the Communist Party. While that partnership has made it easier to get things done in China, it has also given the government influence over everything from the price of admission to the types of rides at the park.

 … Worried that importing classic rides would reek of cultural imperialism, Disney left out stalwarts such as Space Mountain, the Jungle Cruise and It’s a Small World. Instead, 80 percent of the Shanghai rides, like the “Tron” lightcycle roller coaster, are unique, a move that pleased executives at the company’s Chinese partner, the state-owned Shanghai Shendi Group, who made multiple trips to Disney headquarters in California to hash out blueprint details.

Disney then ran with the idea, infusing the park with Chinese elements. The Shanghai resort’s signature restaurant, the Wandering Moon Teahouse has rooms designed to represent different areas of the country. The restaurant is billed as honoring the “restless, creative spirit” of Chinese poets.

From a more general viewpoint,
the Chinese government is growing more assertive and nationalistic. Emboldened by the size and breadth of its economy, China is stepping up its demands, pressuring companies to lower their prices, hand over proprietary technology and help advance the country’s development goals, even if that means financing the growth of local rivals.IBM has promised to share technology with China. 

LinkedIn has agreed to censor content inside the country. Even Google has been scrounging for a way back into China, after withdrawing in 2010 in the face of accusations of government censorship and intrusions by state-backed hackers

 … In October 1998, Mr. Eisner met Zhu Rongji, who had just been named prime minister, at China’s leadership compound in Beijing. [Disney’s chief executive at the time, Michael D. Eisner,] apologized for “Kundun,” calling it a “stupid mistake,” according to a transcript of the meeting.

This film was a form of insult to our friends, but other than journalists, very few people in the world ever saw it,” Mr. Eisner said during the meeting. (“Kundun” bombed, taking in just $5.7 million against a production budget of about $30 million.)

Mr. Eisner said the company had learned a lesson. And he introduced Mr. Iger, then Disney’s international president, as the person who would carry on negotiations for a theme park. The Chinese prime minister responded favorably. Land in Shanghai, he said, had already been set aside.
… Disney needs to avoid getting lost in translation, an especially difficult proposition in China. It is a deeply American brand trying to break into a country where the government wants to suppress Western ideals.

 … Disney is going to extraordinary lengths to prove its commitment to China and the Communist Party. During a 2010 meeting with China’s propaganda minister, Mr. Iger pledged to use the company’s global platform to “introduce more about China to the world.” And he has done just that.

 … “When global brands ask me what they need to do to improve their chances in China, I often paraphrase John F. Kennedy: Ask not what China can do for your business, but what your business can do for China,” said John A. Quelch, who teaches at Harvard Business School and has extensive experience in China. “They need to demonstrate that they are willing to promote things the government is interested in.”

Mr. Iger is trying especially to give Shanghai Disney some Chinese flair. He instructed park designers to infuse as many Chinese elements as possible.

 … Mr. Iger even came up with a new slogan for the Shanghai resort, calling it “authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese.” He repeats the phrase constantly when talking about the site, and Disney executives in Shanghai have posted it around their offices. It is supposed to be a sign of respect for China and its people.
Apologizing for a(n allegedly) Chinese-unfriendly film?! That is life in Hollywood for ya. (While continuing the unending line of movies bashing American conservatives, naturally…)

You can read all about it in Hollywood's Offerings Promise Only to Get More Anti-American.
"It's fascinating to listen to people’s interpretations of your story" [Steven Soderbergh] — except when they are conservative Americans!

And especially when they are members of the communist bureaucracy's élite.