: Implications of the differences of Shanghai Disneyland
Previous studies tend to link Disney with cultural imperialism. Being one of the world's largest entertainment companies, Disney is often criticized as a cultural imperialist that promotes the imperialist ideology with an exercise of exploitative control over resources and people’s values through economic dominance. China, a country with a strong awareness of its historical greatness, is sensitive about any imperialist attempt. In order to avoid being called a cultural imperialist for a chance to survive and thrive in the lucrative Chinese market, Disney carefully builds Shanghai Disneyland as Disneyland with Chinese characteristics.
Beyond cultural imperialism
Focusing on the production of Shanghai Disneyland, this book examines production's relationships with state, market, park identity, and park representation (Figure 6.1). Here, identity refers to how Shanghai Disneyland sees itself and wishes to be seen with politics to advance the company’s interests. Representation refers to the arrangement of the themed lands, inclusion and exclusion of attractions, and content of entertainment performances at Shanghai Disneyland. Strategy, in its business sense, refers to a set of guiding principles for a company to prioritize resources for the achievement of desired goals.
Production and state: Ownership structure of Shanghai Disneyland
Disney’s production of Shanghai Disneyland is largely shaped by the Chinese party-state’s regulations and political agenda. Shanghai Disneyland is a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company and the state-owned Shanghai Shendi Group. This joint venture has two owner companies and one management company. The management
84 Implications of the differences of Shanghai Disneyland
Figure 6.1 Production’s relationships with state, market, park identity, and park representation in the case of Shanghai Disneyland
company is responsible for designing and operating the park on behalf of the owner companies.
According to China’s Catalogue for the Guidance of Foreign Investment Industries, the construction of theme parks is one of the restricted investments, which are required to follow the Sino-foreign joint-venture only rule and the majority Chinese ownership rule. Accordingly, Disney forms a joint venture with the state-owned Shanghai Shendi Group and holds the minority of 43 percent shares in the owner companies. Although management of theme parks falls under the encouraged category without any joint-venture rule, Disney does not own 100 percent in the management company of Shanghai Disneyland. This is the first-ever special arrangement for Disney to engage the local in the management of Disneyland in which the company holds shares. For Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland, Disney takes full charge of the management. The Chinese government allowed Disney to hold 70 percent of the shares in the management company in exchange for Disney’s extensive sharing of its theme park expertise to promote the country’s development goals of advancing the local tourism industry.
Based on consent rather than coercion, hegemony is maintained through ongoing articulation of opposing interests into the political affiliations of the hegemonic group. In the case of Shanghai Disneyland, the Chinese state utilizes its economic capital and enormous market size to accumulate both its economic capital through park revenues and its cultural capital of theme park management through the co-operation with Disney. On the other hand, Disney exchanges its cultural capital of theme park design and management for an opportunity to accumulate its economic capital in the Chinese market.
Major foreign cultural companies are cultivated to orchestrate with the party-state’s agenda in China. Disney has a dedicated Department of Government Affairs in China to deliver targeted advocacy in support of business goals. On top of the strategies for the other Disneyland, such as synergy and recycling of old materials, in China, maintaining valuable government relations is Disney’s main strategy. There will be no business in which to exercise any strategy if the Chinese party-state blocks or suspends Disney’s practices, which is not uncommon in China. Denial of access to the lucrative Chinese market is the Chinese party-state’s highhanded measure to force global capitals to comply with the government’s interests.