As President Xi Jinping’s government seeks to tame Chinese celebrities, the popularity of a new Universal Studios theme park in Beijing shows Hollywood’s enduring soft power among the country’s 1.4 billion people.
Tickets for the grand opening on Monday, priced at 638 yuan ($ 99), sold out within 30 minutes of going online last week – as did rooms costing up to 20,000 yuan at the two hotels in the city. complex, according to official media. Fliggy, an online travel site operated by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., apologized last week for overselling the 500 yuan Universal Express pass that allows visitors to skip the lines.
The park became the most searched topic on China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo Monday morning, with visitors undeterred by the humid weather posting videos of “Harry Potter” experiences and a grand opening ceremony.
The growing demand underscores the challenge Xi faces in curbing the appetite for celebrities among the general public, as the Communist Party seeks to curb foreign influences and promote the concept of “common prosperity.” A comment widely published in state media last month cautioned against “fan culture” and “worshiping Western culture.”
Earlier this month, the National Administration of Radio and Television – China’s broadcasting regulator – ordered television companies and internet platforms to ban movie stars with “incorrect policy,” to cap salaries and end idol worship. One of China’s most popular movie stars, Zhao Wei, was blacklisted from the Chinese internet while another actress was ordered to pay 299 million yuan in overdue taxes, delay and fines last month.
The popularity of the Universal Studios theme park shows resistance to the Communist Party’s tightening cultural norms after decades of Western influence, according to Adam Ni, co-editor of China Neican, a newsletter on Chinese public policy issues .
“As powerful as the party is, it will have to face countless daily decisions by the Chinese, which together would constitute the moral fabric of the People’s Republic,” he said.
Before the park’s public opening, dozens of Chinese celebrities – including “Crouching Tiger” actress Zhang Ziyi and model Liu Wen – visited attractions related to “Jurassic Park”, “Transformers” and “Harry Potter” . Photos of other guests dressed in Hogwarts capes and posing with “Minions” and “Megatron” characters have become hot topics on Weibo, similar to Twitter in China.
“Universal Beijing Resort is popular with the Chinese because there is a part of the world culture that the Chinese crave,” Ni added. “Beijing is trying to reinforce this dichotomy between ‘Chinese’ and ‘foreigner’, but there is still a lot of admiration and curiosity for foreign cultures in China. The attitude of the public towards Western culture is therefore two-sided. “
The project, which is expected to attract 30 million visitors per year, is a joint venture between state-owned Beijing Shouhuan Cultural Tourism Investment Co. and Comcast NBCUniversal. It has been under construction since 2001.
Last week, China’s new ambassador to the United States compared one of the roller coasters of attraction to chaotic diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing. “After all the falls and jolts, the roller coaster finally landed smoothly,” Qin Gang, who visited the park before moving to the United States in July, wrote on his official Twitter account, reporting a note from optimism.
This positive turn was shared by the state-owned Global Times newspaper, which said last week that the popularity is a testament to China’s “cultural confidence”. But there were other signs the attraction would face challenges from the government.
Beijing party leader Cai Qi on Thursday urged the US side to add more “Chinese elements” to the park during a video call with Brian Roberts, chief executive of Comcast Corp, according to a Beijing Daily report.
Universal Beijing Resort did not respond to a question about how it would handle China’s requests.
Harrison Wang, a 39-year-old Beijing resident who works in the film industry, praised the theme park after witnessing the soft launch.
“People are here for the famous scenes and characters in these highly regarded films, as well as for the world-class entertainment experience,” he said. “As the country’s borders are now closed, it offers a taste of authentic Western culture.”