At the beginning of the month Disney made an announcement I initially decided not to cover on my blog: plans to build a new theme park in the Pudong district of Shanghai, China. The announcement basically consisted of just that, with little additional information, and I wasn’t sure how many of our readers would ever have the chance to visit the park.
Now I’ve learned something about the Shanghai Theme Park Project that makes me want to bring it to the attention of our readers. The future site of Disney Shanghai is currently occupied by the villages and fields of about 5000 Chinese families. They will all be forced to relocate.
Relocation to pave way for development is hardly a new issue, though it’s one that’s often accompanied by plenty of controversy. Disney is not the first nor will it be the last company to develop on a piece of land and force residents to move. I do not naively assume that the issue is straightforward, nor am I convinced that Disney is a big bad devil-horned company casting innocent farmers into a destitute life on the streets.
However, I have to express some concerns. China has a long history of carrying out mass relocations of its citizens, including recently for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. The country also does not always have a great track record of honoring citizens rights during relocations. Stories emerge from time to time of violent forced demolitions and meager compensation to the displaced.
Reports differ about the situation for those affected by Disney’s Shanghai Park. Representatives for Disney maintain that they are aware of relocation packages offered to residents, while some of those residents claim they have yet to hear how much they will receive for their property. I can only hope that Disney will make good on its promise to support the efforts being made to help the families in their transition.
What I am led to wonder, however, is just how important it is for Disney to build a new park in Shanghai. Hong Kong Disneyland, which opened in 2005, has not done as well as the company anticipated. Plans are now underway for a $456 million expansion in hopes of increasing its appeal. So why is Disney now launching a new $3.5 billion project in Shanghai, when the success of Disney parks in China is still under question?
I mention all of this because there’s still a part of me that wants to view Disney, whose business is family entertainment, as a company dedicated to family values. I realize that production studios like Miramax, which produce some films inappropriate for children, fall under the conglomerate’s umbrella. However, when Disney releases a family-oriented product, stamped with its famous name, I want to know that it was made with certain values in mind.
Displacing 5000 families into possibly dubious circumstances certainly doesn’t fit with my values, or the idealism and inclusiveness associated with Disney’s supposed “most magical place on earth” theme. Disney already pushes those boundaries with its parks, between its high prices, never-ending lines, and heavily consumerist culture. I hope the company doesn’t let greed, in the guise of bringing “magic” to a new group of people, destroy the lives of those who are already struggling.