Caleb Kostreva is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2016, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A public policy and civic leadership; social science (global studies emphasis) major at Howard Payne University, he is studying abroad in Shanghai this term.
In this week's post, Caleb visits Shanghai Disney to see how it compares to the experience many of us have had in the US.
How can something that is quintessentially American appeal to cultures around the world?
I have always wondered how Disney parks attract consumers in places like Tokyo and Hong Kong when Disney is such an iconic product of the USA, and I recently had the opportunity to experience it first-hand at the most recently opened park here in Shanghai. This was also my first Disney experience, but I went with two other CAPA students (thanks Jonathan and Kathy!) and it was interesting to hear from them how this park compares to those in California and Florida.
Although the park is smaller than the ones in California and Florida (at least from what I've heard), it boasts the largest castle at a Disney park in the world. Actually, it being smaller was better for us because it meant that we could feasibly do everything we wanted to in one day, which was all the time we had. Before I went, I expected the park to be oriented toward the Asian culture by placing the only Chinese Disney princess, Mulan, as a prominent figurehead, but I only saw her featured twice in the entire park. Once was on a boat ride showcasing nearly all the Disney princesses (the audio system glitched halfway through the ride, so it turned into a peacefully silent ride instead of being propelled by iconic songs from each story), and the second time Mulan made an appearance was at the end of the day during the fireworks show.
Instead of appealing to Chinese customers by advertising Mulan, it seemed to make its appeal as more of an American icon in China. China is famous (infamous?) for its copycats of brands around the world. There are fake markets everywhere selling – can you guess it? – fake products, from Nike to Dr. Dre to Gucci to you-name-it. I am shocked how much Chinese people know about American culture; they are experts on the NBA, American actors and actresses, and even much of American politics. The point? Chinese people seem to flock to and try to copy American culture and products. The Shanghai Disney Resort does not seem to be any different, excepting the fact that it is not an imitation.
However, it is not entirely American. There were no hamburgers, chicken nuggets, or the masses of Americans swarming around the park. Most of the food was local cuisine, although one of the options was a Chinese interpretation of pizza, and nearly all of the visitors were Chinese. The workers’ English was fairly good, but they obviously all spoke Mandarin, and all of the signs were in Chinese as well (but also thankfully had English… more or less directly translated). Also, many of the decorations throughout the park were hinted with traditional Chinese accents, though some of them more explicitly than others.
Photo: One of the more directly Chinese decorations – reminiscent of Chinese paper-cutting
Though it was overcast and threatened to rain, all the clouds did was likely dissuade people from going to the park, which meant that lines for rides were not bad for us all day. As the sun sunk beneath China’s horizon, everyone gathered in front of the castle to watch the fireworks show, a classic Disney tradition that I was greatly anticipating as a first-time observer. This might not be surprising to most of you reading this, but I was not expecting the show to be more a medley of clips from Disney movies projected onto the castle with the fireworks being accents than just a fireworks show like you might see on the Fourth of July. It was a pleasant surprise for me, really, and it was quite fun to see the castle transformed into an African jungle (Lion King) or a Chinese pagoda (Mulan) rather than the castle that is so well-known across the globe.
Photo: Everyone was watching the show through their phone’s lens… myself included at points
My first Disney experience was a memorable one, and spent with two people who totally made the day a spectacular one. It was exhausting, but totally worth it (I feel like I say that a lot). The way that Disney appeals to the local consumer pool was different than I expected, but I really am not all that surprised by it. Even though it was very Western in style, Shanghai gave Disney a very tasteful Chinese flare that I’m glad I got to experience instead of the iconic American parks (even though this one might be smaller than those across the pond).
Caleb's journey continues every Thursday so stay tuned.