Disney: China Approves Shanghai Theme Park

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The Walt Disney Company says it has finally won approval from the Chinese government to build a Disneyland in Shanghai. In a statement, Disney's chief executive Robert Iger said it was a very significant milestone. Disney cartoons are shown on Chinese TV, and its products sell in 6,000 outlets across the mainland.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A Magic Kingdom will be rising in Shanghai. It took some doing, but the Walt Disney Company has won approval from the Chinese government to build a new Disneyland, the sixth in the world, in Shanghai. Here's NPR's Louisa Lim.

LOUISA LIM: The courtship has been almost two decades long. Even Shanghai's mayor, Han Zheng, described Disney and the Shanghai government as in love, but having a hard time deciding when to get married. Today, the lovers finally announced they have permission to tie the knot. But they still haven't swapped rings. Earlier media reports suggested it could be a $3.5 billion deal for a 1,000 acre park opening around 2014. Analyst Cai Weimin says Shanghai needs Disneyland to kick-start the economy.

Mr. CAI WEIMIN (Analyst): (Through Translator) I don't think Shanghai government will make any profit through Disney for the next 20 years. But Shanghai Disneyland will bring in lots of visitors, stimulate domestic demand, and drive economic development.

(Soundbite of Disney cartoon in foreign language)

LIM: Disney cartoons have long been shown on Chinese television, and Disney products already sell in 6,000 different outlets across the mainland. But the Disneyland in Hong Kong has been heavily criticized as too small, and too costly for the Hong Kong government. Parita Chitakasem, from Euromonitor, says Shanghai's in a good position to succeed.

Ms. PARITA CHITAKASEM (Euromonitor): Disney characters are popular in China already, and so it will have the brand power and support there. It can be a win-win situation for both if Disneyland is able to learn from the mistakes that it made in Hong Kong.

LIM: It's surprisingly peaceful in this small village just 20 miles from the center of Shanghai. Here, people still keep chickens, and they still grow their own vegetables. But not for much longer. This is where the Magic Kingdom comes to the middle kingdom. This village is soon to be site of the world's sixth Disneyland. And the villagers aren't sure they like the idea.

Ms. HUA MEIXI (Villager): (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: We don't want to move and lose our vegetable plots, says Hua Meixi, but we have no choice.

Mr. HAN ZHENGMIN (Villager): (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: But Han Zhengmin can't wait. The faster, the better, he says. I want to live in a high-rise building. Of course it's a good thing.

LIM: Locals say around 2,000 families are likely to lose their homes. The final package for the villagers hasn't been confirmed yet, nor have the terms of the deal. So there's still a long way to go before Disney can declare a happy ending.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.

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