China is a land filled with famous landmarks, and these marvels range from ancient monuments like Tiananmen Square to modern architectural achievements such as the world’s largest building.
But for recreation-seekers and lovers of the quirky and bizarre, there’s another reason to visit the Middle Kingdom: to see China’s numerous theme parks, which are in a class all by themselves. While Disney Land has made inroads into China, first in Hong Kong and soon in an upcoming Shanghai resort, the majority of the country’s amusement parks are of the home-grown variety. They range from Disney rip-offs to impressive city recreations.
The following are SCMP.com’s picks for China’s five oddest theme parks. With Shanghai Disney Resort not set to open until 2015, there’s plenty of time to visit them all.
5. Window of the World – Shenzhen
The Window of the World is a theme park that offers exactly what its name suggests – a chance for visitors to take an intimate look at 130 of the world’s tourist attractions without leaving China. Re-creations of Italy’s Colosseum, Egypt’s pyramids and Cambodia’s Angkor Wat are only a few of the spectacles on display here, all towering under the shadow of a 108 metre high replica Eiffel Tower. The park has inspired imitators, including a younger cousin in the north called Beijing World Park. Despite the competition, Window of the World remains one of the earliest and most well-known destinations for “foreign landmark sightseeing” in China.
4. Bruce Lee Paradise Park – Guangdong
Bruce Lee is usually remembered throughout the Chinese world as a Hong Kong martial arts icon. Junan Town in Guangdong has cashed in on his legacy, however, and local government officials have pointed out that Shangcun Village in Junan was the birthplace of Lee’s father – and therefore Lee’s ancestral home as well. Eager to bring more tourists to the area, the Junan government invested about 158 million yuan (HK$ 200 million) into the Bruce Lee Paradise Park. Less amusement park and more ecological resort, the park opened in 2008 and features the world’s largest bronze statue of Bruce Lee, as well as various attractions that have little to do with the martial artist, including a science museum and, oddly enough, a vegetable farm.
3. World Joyland – Jiangsu
Similar to Disney Land, World Joyland is divided up into several different sections, including a water park and a smaller area with rides for toddlers. Unlike Disney, two of those sections are heavily inspired by the Blizzard Entertainment computer games World of Warcraft and Starcraft. Called 'Terrain of Magic' and 'Universe of Starship' respectively, the two sections of the park are filled with characters, imagery and rides heavily influenced by the games, which enjoy a massive following in China. Blizzard Entertainment had nothing to do with World Joyland’s creation, which means that all the imagery used in the park borders on copyright infringement. Nonetheless, this has not stopped both Chinese and international gamers from making the “World of Warcraft amusement park” a popular destination in China.
2. Shijingshan Amusement Park – Beijing
One of Beijing’s older theme parks, Shijingshan Amusement Park has been attracting visitors since it first opened in 1986. It has also experienced a copyright infringement investigation after the park was exposed by Fuji TV for featuring an array of characters that strongly resembled Mickey Mouse, Snow White, Bugs Bunny and Shrek, amongst others. A banner that originally hung over the park’s entrance reportedly read: “Disney is too far, so please come to Shijingshan." After being internationally exposed, the park closed its doors for refurbishing and re-opened in 2011, with the licensed characters and banner noticeably absent.
1. Empire of the Little People – Kunming
Called everything from a "horrible" zoo to a "refuge" for Chinese dwarves, the Empire of the Little People features acrobatic song and dance performances by little person troupes, all of whom are led by a leader wearing a cape and crown who is addressed as the "dwarf king." All the performers also live in small rock villas that resemble something out of a fantasy book.The park has been harshly criticised by rights groups such as Little People of America and Handicap International, and has drawn international attention from outlets such as The New York Times. Critics argue the park shows poor taste in putting dwarves on display, but actual employees have gone on record saying that they enjoy working there, and that the park has afforded them employment opportunities that they would normally be unable to find elsewhere in China.