The ground has been broken and the seeds planted in the fertile consciousness of the Chinese middle class. An emerging middle class in any country is just another name for prey in the global corporate parlance.
As poverty in China has been reduced, people are enjoying an increase in discretionary income.
Enter the predator: Disney, Inc.
The bulldozers recently began ripping apart the Good Earth in Shanghai to start construction on what will eventually be mainland China’s first Disney World.
China has seen both the positive and negative effects of globalization; millions have been lifted out of poverty and given choices they never had, but at the same time, their cultural traditions have slowly been giving way to western-style consumerism, promoted by aggressive marketing. The presence of Disney will not help this trend.
To make way for this aesthetic nightmare—which will cost anywhere from $3.5 to $4.5 billion—thousands of Chinese residents were forcibly removed from their homes.
This is corporate colonialism in the form of a revered institution and in the name of free enterprise. Absurd wealth has allowed a corporate entity to appropriate land, force residents from their homes and sell a set of beliefs to a culture that would be better off building its own institutions based on the values of its own traditions.
Disney may justify its actions by pointing to the Chinese officials who gave approval, but if they are doing business in China, they have to know that people forced from their homes—homes that have probably been in their families for generations—will not be compensated adequately. Corporate interests trump the interests of ordinary people the world over.
A New York Times article recently reported, “Disney’s arrival in Shanghai has been contentious. Residents in the area where the park is being built…have complained about poor treatment by relocation companies. Relocation in China is a huge problem because land prices are soaring with housing prices, and the compensation given to residents often is not enough. Many residents are ultimately forced off the lands.”
If a Chinese-themed amusement park—enormous in size, scope and influence—was being planned for Long Island, forcing people from their homes and destroying communities as a result, Americans could use civil freedoms to speak out and protest or take legal action. Chinese society does not operate like this; people there are voiceless, and their rights are arbitrarily given, taken and ignored. That is why the onus is on Disney here.
What is corporate responsibility, if not this? If Disney knew its plans would displace even one family who was unwilling to go or tear down one house without the family’s consent, it is its responsibility to stop the project.
Disney has destroyed an actual village—where actual people lived and worked and danced under their trees—to promote a fairy tale world.
A handful of Disney executives and Chinese bureaucrats showed they have the power to dislocate thousands and push an entire culture in one direction—24 oz. Pepsi’s, blockbuster action movies, Mickey Mouse and overpriced merchandise.
“[This is] a defining moment in our company’s history,” Disney CEO Bob Iger told the crowd in Shanghai, “It will be both authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese.”
Why don’t we let the Chinese create something distinctly Chinese. If the opening ceremonies at the 2008 Beijing Olympics were any indication, China needs no help creating its own cultural enterprises.
Besides, Disney World is so not Feng Shui.