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Thread: Xi Jinping's celebrity crackdown no match for Universal Studios in China

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    Default Xi Jinping's celebrity crackdown no match for Universal Studios in China

    Xi Jinping's celebrity crackdown no match for Universal Studios in China


    People queue to enter the Universal Studios Beijing theme park during an invitation-only test run in Beijing on Sept 1, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

    September 20, 2021

    BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - As President Xi Jinping's government looks to tame China's celebrities, the popularity of a new Universal Studios theme park in Beijing shows Hollywood's enduring soft power among the nation's 1.4 billion people.

    Tickets for the grand opening on Monday (Sept 20), priced at 638 yuan (S$133), sold out within 30 minutes of going online last week - as did rooms costing as much as 20,000 yuan at the resort's two hotels, according to state-run media.

    Fliggy, an online travel site operated by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, last week apologised for overselling the 500 yuan Universal Express Pass that lets visitor skip lines.

    The surging demand underscores the challenge Mr Xi faces in dampening the appetite for celebrities among the general public, as the Communist Party looks to curtail foreign influences and promote the concept of "common prosperity".

    A commentary published widely in state-run media last month warned against "fan culture" and "worshiping Western culture". Earlier this month the National Radio and Television Administration - China's broadcast regulator - ordered television companies and internet platforms to ban film stars with "incorrect politics", cap salaries and do away with idol worship.

    One of China's most popular film stars, Zhao Wei, was blacklisted from China's internet while another actress was ordered to pay 299 million yuan in overdue taxes, late fees and fines last month.

    The popularity of the Universal Studios theme park shows resistance to the Communist Party's tightening of cultural standards after decades of allowing Western influences, 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 contend with countless everyday decisions by the Chinese, which would together make up the moral fabric of the People's Republic," he said.

    In the lead-up to the park's public opening, dozens of Chinese celebrities - including "Crouching Tiger" actress Zhang Ziyi and supermodel Liu Wen - visited attractions related to "Jurassic Park", "Transformers" and "Harry Potter". Photos of other guests dressed in Hogwarts cloaks, and posing with "Minions" and "Megatron" characters, became trending topics on China's Twitter-like Weibo.

    "Universal Beijing Resort is popular with the Chinese because there is part of the global culture that the Chinese thirst for," Mr Ni added.

    "Beijing is trying to reinforce this dichotomy between 'Chinese' and 'foreign,' but there is still much admiration and curiosity for foreign cultures in China. So the public attitude towards Western culture is two-faced."

    The project, which is expected to attract 30 million visitors a year, is a joint venture between the state-owned Beijing Shouhuan Cultural Tourism Investment Co. and Comcast NBCUniversal. It has been in the works since 2001.

    China's newly appointed ambassador to the US last week compared one of the attraction's roller coasters to bumpy diplomatic ties between Washington and Beijing.

    "After all tumbling and shakes, the roller coaster came to a soft landing in the end," Mr Qin Gang, who visited the park before moving to the US in July, wrote on his official Twitter account, signalling a note of optimism.

    That positive spin was shared by state-run newspaper Global Times, which last week said the popularity displayed China's "cultural confidence".

    But there were other signs the attraction would face challenges from the government.

    Beijing party chief Cai Qi on Thursday urged the US side to add more "Chinese elements" to the park in a video call with Brian Roberts, chief executive of Comcast Corp, according to a report by the state-run Beijing Daily. Universal Beijing Resort didn't respond to a question on how it would deal with China's requests.

    Harrison Wang, a 39-year-old Beijing resident who works in film industry, heaped praise on the theme park after he attended the soft launch.

    "People are here for the famed scenes and characters of these well-liked movies, as well as the world-class entertaining experience," he said. "As the country's borders are closed now, it offers a taste of the authentic Western culture."

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    Default Re: Xi Jinping's celebrity crackdown no match for Universal Studios in China

    Universal Studios Beijing draws eager throngs amid uneasy US-China ties

    Sep 20, 2021

    BLOOMBERG

    [BEIJING] Universal Studios' Beijing resort opened its doors to the public on Monday after a two-decade wait, including delays because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

    The highly-anticipated opening takes place amid US-China relations that have deteriorated in recent years.

    The park will be US-based Universal's largest and its fifth globally. It is also a first for Beijing, which lacks a big branded theme park to rival the Disney resorts in Shanghai and Hong Kong. And, it will be the first Universal park with a section dedicated to the movie "Kung Fu Panda", and includes an area based on the Harry Potter franchise, which is popular in China.

    Amid light rain and tight security on Monday, a public holiday in China to mark the Mid-Autumn Festival, a steady stream of umbrella-wielding visitors entered the resort.

    A Universal Studios employee told Reuters that visitor numbers were being capped at around 10,000 for Monday because of the pandemic, but the park has the capacity for many more.

    All 10,000 tickets for the opening, available in a pre-sale on Sept 14, were sold out in three minutes, said Trip.com Group. "This is a rare time in a long while when an America-themed topic has attracted such obvious and widespread praise in China," said Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's People's Daily.

    Beijing-based visitors snatched 40 per cent of the tickets for the first month, while the cities of Tianjin and Shanghai were the second- and third-largest sources of patrons, said travel website qunar.com.

    Still, many buyers complained on social media about ticket costs, which range from 418 yuan (US$64.76) in the low season to 748 yuan during peak periods.

    The resort was proposed 20 years ago by the Beijing Tourism Group, said the official China Daily, and is 30 per cent owned by Comcast Corp's Universal Parks & Resorts and 70 per cent by state-owned Beijing Shouhuan Cultural Tourism Investment.

    The new Chinese ambassador to Washington, Qin Gang, likened the park's rollercoaster ride to ties between the two countries. "After all the tumbling and shakes, the rollercoaster came to a soft landing in the end," he tweeted on Sept 14.

    Universal Studios announced the development of the resort in 2014 at an estimated cost of US$3.3 billion. In 2017, Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said the park could provide US$1 billion of operating cash flow per year once open.

    It is estimated that the park could earn more than 10 billion yuan (US$1.6 billion) a year in revenue with up to 12 million visits, said the Beijing Daily.

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