Wanda theme park opens in China, takes on Disney

BEIJING • Chinese conglomerate Wanda yesterday opened its first theme park, with its billionaire boss declaring war on Disney weeks before the American entertainment giant launches a similar attraction in Shanghai.

"Wanda City", in south-eastern Nanchang, comprises a giant mall set over 2 sq km, as well as an 80ha theme park boasting "the highest and longest roller coaster and the highest drop tower in China", according to a statement by the group.

The project represents an investment of 22 billion yuan (S$4.6 billion), the statement said.

"We want to be a model... and highlight Chinese influence in the cultural domain," said Wanda founder Wang Jianlin during an opening ceremony at the park, as he referenced an "invasion" of foreign cultures, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

A week before, Mr Wang - China's richest man, according to Forbes magazine - said he was setting his sights on Disney, which will open its first theme park on the mainland next month.

"This craze for Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck is over, the period when we would blindly follow where Disney led has been gone for years," he said, during a long interview with CCTV.

Wanda plans to open six more theme parks in China within three years. "We want to ensure that Disney will not be able to make a profit in this (theme park) sector in China for between 10 and 20 years," said Mr Wang.

Disney's project in Shanghai - a US$5.5 billion (S$7.6 billion) investment - will be its sixth theme park and its fourth outside the United States after Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

The American giant is hoping its franchises will appeal to China's middle class, in a country where it has been generating an increasing share of box office revenues.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 29, 2016, with the headline 'Wanda theme park opens in China, takes on Disney'. Print Edition | Subscribe