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November 4, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright November 4, 2009. Used by permission.


Needless to say, the Shanghai-Disney story, which has just taken a dramatic turn, is one that I’ve been following with great interest. How could I not, when the University of California-Irvine, where I teach and “China Beat” is based, is closer to the original Disney theme park than any other major research university? When my last book not only looked at Shanghai’s past but speculated a bit about what it may become in the near future as it continues to develop? When I’ve published a travel-themed commentary-cum-memoir that alluded to the role that visits to the Magic Kingdom in Anaheim played in my childhood? And when one of the short pieces on globalization I’ve written refers to the strange uses to whichMickey Mouse’s visage was put during a public health campaign carried out in Shanghai in the mid-1980s?

There’s also another reason I’m intrigued by the story, though, which inspires this post. Namely, like many other people who live in or simply regularly visit and are interested in Shanghai, I’ve been fascinated by what the upcoming World Expo has been doing to and could do for the metropolis. And like many other people who have taught and written about World’s Fairs, I’ve thought a lot about the complex ties between the International Exhibition lineage that the 2010 Expo will continue, on the one hand, and Disney theme parks, on the other. Curiously, though, I haven’t seen much attention in the coverage of the Shanghai-Disney story to the ties between World’s Fairs and theme parks, and sometimes, even ingenerally good articles about the Disney deal, the fact that an Expo is about to take place in the city isn’t even mentioned.

Yes, there are brief allusions in some Shanghai-Disney stories to the fact that the city is about to hold an Expo. Yes, some references have been made to the fact that the World’s Fair planned for 2010 has already involved and the theme park that could open as early as 2014 will require a lot of land being acquired and a lot of major construction. And, yes, there have been scattered comments about how the Disney park could keep a local tourist boom going after the Expo has ended. These Expo-Disney angles all have relevance, especially the land expropriation/construction boom one, as both raise the question of how much more development the already hyper-developed metropolis by the Huangpu River can take, whether those being forced to relocate are being offered appropriate compensation, and how much in general is just too much. Still, at least for the historically minded, the Expo-Disney connections worth pondering go deeper.