Monkey business

Who needs Disneyland when you have Monkey Kingdom?

Monkey business

I did not issue a fatwa to kill Mickey Mouse,” complained Sheikh Muhammad Al-Munajid a couple of years ago. The Syrian cleric was anxious to clarify that he had been preaching against mice in general, and not threatening Mickey in particular.

News from the China’s People’s Political Consultative Conference (a political advisory body junior to the National People’s Congress) last week suggests Mickey cannot afford to relax.

Xinhua reports that CCPPC member Zhao Lihong wants to create theme parks in China that will prove “as popular as Disneyland”. Zhao is suggesting that the parks should be themed around the Monkey King, a character from Journey to the West, one of the four great classical Chinese novels.

The Monkey King (known as Sun Wukong in China and often just as Monkey in versions of the story told in the West) was one of three followers assigned to protect the monk Xuanzang on his journey to obtain Buddhist religious texts from India. Zhao thinks their adventures could inspire attractions at the parks. So expect to see a celestial palace, a jade pool in heaven, a dragon king temple under the sea and a fairyland in the clouds.

Disney first arrived in China 80 years ago, with a screening of Snow White in Shanghai. More recently, it has been in protracted negotiations to open a park in Shanghai – of which the city’s mayor, Han Zheng recently quipped: “We are in a serious relationship with Disney but we haven’t tied the knot yet.”

As far as Zhao is concerned, a park based on the Monkey King would be a preferable attraction. Like a Disney venture it would be a children’s wonderland, reports Xinhua, although one infused with a Chinese spirit and culture.

Is this further evidence of a newly confident nation jostling for position with its American rival? Perhaps. It certainly reflects a view that there are insufficient Chinese cultural images on the global stage. Zhao also thinks the parks would work well in Korea and Japan – both of which are very familiar with the Monkey King’s adventures.

In terms of a direct head-to-head between the Mouse and the Monkey, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Mickey might be a little out of his depth, pound-for-pound.

After all, the Monkey King lifts 8,100kg, fights superbly, travels as a cloud and somersaults 54,000 kilometres in a single flip. Mickey, on the other hand, has large floppy ears and his only combat experience (in the movie Fantasia) saw him quickly overwhelmed by disobedient pails of water.

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