The American Spectator

If you're going to Disney World, Peking hopes you'll also dropin on this nearby Florida theme park to learn how happy China's manyoppressed people's really are - and bring the kids.

Florida Splendid China

by Kenneth R. Timmerman


Kenneth R. Timmerman is a contributingeditor for Reader's Digest and a frequent contributor to The AmericanSpectator.

The Chinese Communist government in Peking hasshrunk from nothing in its attempt to win the hearts and minds ofU.S. lawmakers, from President Clinton down to members of Congress,whom they regularly invite on junkets to visit China's tourist spotsand to witness the "economic miracle" of state-run capitalism. AndAmericans are gradually becoming aware of a much broader attempt byPeking to infiltrate American society, an effort that has taken agreat leap forward during the Clinton-Gore administration. Aschronicled in these pages, the Chinese have planted a top agent inthe Commerce Department to obtain classified U.S. intelligenceinformation and an inside preview of U.S. policy toward China.They've purchased entire U.S. defense plants closed at the end of theCold War, and established thousands of U.S. trading companies toprocure technology and serve as fronts for high-tech spying. Theyhave tapped Wall Street's vast capital market to fund the corruptenterprises of the Red Princelings and the People's Liberation Army(PLA), borrowing billions of dollars from top U.S. retirement fundsto float bond issues for the Bank of China and regional developmentbanks owned by the Chinese government.

Peking has even set its sights on Americanchildren. A Florida theme park owned by the State Council of thePeople's Republic is designed to convince kids, and their unwittingparents, that the Communist dictatorship is simply heir to 5,000years of imperial splendor. This park, a monument to the manifestdestiny of a Greater China that has never existed, richly epitomizesthe propaganda strategy of the Chinese government toward the UnitedStates.

On seventy-six acres of former ranch land inKissimmee, Florida, just across the state highway from its morefamous competitor Disney World, sits Florida Splendid China. I wentto see it on a chilly winter afternoon, and as I wandered through thetheme park's eerily empty landscapes (the other tourists havingflocked to heated exhibits at Disney World and nearby UniversalStudios), I was repeatedly struck by the craftsmanship and harmoniousdesign of these miniature landscapes, temples, monuments. Buts oneaspect of the layout was especially noteworthy: All therepresentations of Tibet, East Turkestan, and Mongolia were neatlyplaced outside the half-mile long replica of the Great Wall, theoriginal of which had been built between the fourteenth andseventeenth centuries to repel nomadic invaders. Although barbarianMongols, Manchus, and Tibetans ruled over China for centuries, theminiature models at Florida Splendid China perpetuate the fantasy ofeternal Chinese rule over the vast territory claimed today theChinese Communist Party.

The park was conceived in the late 1980's by aTaiwanese American school teacher and real-estate developer,Josephine Chen, as a medium for cultural exchange between China andthe United States. "My mom swore she'd never go back to China as longas the Communists were still in power:' recalls her 42-yearold son,George Chen. "But this was before Tiananmen, and things wereloosening up. She really felt she could make a difference, and couldgive something back to the United States and to China for her ownsuccess. Mrs. Chen, now 74, traveled to China in 1988 and waswelcomed by officials of a government agency called China TravelServices (Holdings) HK, or CTS for short. They gave her a grand tourof a soon-to-be-opened theme park dedicated to the glories of China'spast and to its spectacular landscapes. Located in Shenzhen, on themainland with close access to Hong Kong, Splendid China MiniatureScenic Spot was an immediate hit, welcoming more thanthree-and-a-half million visitors its first year and allowing CTS torecoup its entire $l00-million investment.

It took two years to negotiate an agreement withCTS, which is controlled by the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, themain propaganda arm of the Chinese Communist State Council. Under theagreement, Mrs. Chen provided the land and management services forthe park, while the Chinese supplied the building materials, thearchitects, and the personnel. CTS brought in expert masons who laidmore than six million miniature bricks to build the copy of the GreatWall. They molded 30-foot high replicas of giant Buddhas, and set upan entire lumber mill to manufacture the delicate tongue-and-groovebeams and planks needed to build hundreds of miniature towns,palaces, and temples. To supervise the construction, Mrs. Chenconvinced her son George to abandon his successful computermanufacturing business and become president of the new venture. "Iworked l6-hour days," he recalls. "At the peak of construction, whichtook only two years, we had 130 workers from China living in acustom-built trailer park across the street that for them had all thetrappings of a luxury hotel. We brought in two chefs from China,bought specialty foods and had the best Chinese restaurants in thearea, just for our workers. I made it a point to buy each of them aseason pass to Disney. We had a huge library of Chinese films inwide-screen video. And they had air-conditioning-for them, somethingunheard of but which they soon found they couldn't live without inthe Florida heat." Chen recalls negotiating with the INS, to obtaintemporary visas for the Chinese workers (who were required to be paidAmerican union wages), and with the FBI, which expressed concernsthat some of the laborers might have been tapped by the Chineseintelligence services to spy on nearby Cape Canaveral. Asconstruction began in December 1991, so did the problems-not with theAmerican authorities, but with the Chens' Chinesepartners.

"The Chinese wanted us to buy black pine beams forthe park exhibits." recalls Chen. "Imported from China, they cost $80each. We found them here for $5 apiece. Since the plans called forthousands of these, we were talking about major economies." Anotherexample was the dyestuff used to color concrete used in the exhibits."The Chinese said they had a supplier who would provide the die for$75 per gallon. Each gallon was enough to die one-third cubic yard ofconcrete. I found U.S.-made powder dies that cost thirty cents apacket, and that would color three cubic yards each." There weredozens of other such cases. "Each time, the Chinese said they had asupplier back in China, who could give them a special deal. I won'tsay it was kickbacks. But clearly, their goal was not to get the jobdone in the most efficient or cost effective way.

Then there was the content of the park itself. Theoriginal Splendid China in Shenzhen featured one -fifteenth scalereplicas of Chinese monuments such as the Forbidden City andTiananmen Square, and spectacular landscapes such as the Stone Forestor the Lijiang river in dreamlike Guilan. Chen says he sought toerect a replica of the Statue of Democracy in the exhibit ofTiananmen Square -- the symbol of the pro-democracy movement brutallycrushed in Tune 1989 "They croaked at that," he recalls. "Privately,they said that while they might agree, the project would get shotdown by the Chinese government if we included it."

One of the supreme ironies of the park is thesheer number of Buddhist shrines among the exhibits, given that the Communists have systematically attempted to uproot religion,destroying temples, mosques, and monasteries, and slaughtering monksand nuns. In the 1:3 scale replica of the Longmen Grotto, two of thedevotees of a female Buddha figure were reproduced with smashedfaces. "We had a long discussion about that with CTS," Chenremembers. "The faces had been intact until Red Guards smashed themduring the Cultural Revolution in 1969. The CTS people wanted toreproduce them intact, to avoid any political discussion. In the end,a panel of Chinese government historians was brought in, and eventhey agreed we couldn't remake history by giving them their facesback." By far the most controversial exhibit is a gigantic replica ofthe Potala Palace, the seat of the Tibetan government since theseventh century and home to the Dalai Lama since 1642-until he wasforced into exile by Peking in 1959. It stretches majestically acrossan entire man-made mountain, giving off an unmistakable religiousaura. Chen said he agreed to include it because it was "one of themost beautiful buildings in China's sphere of influence. You don'thave to be a Tibetan Buddhist to find it simply awe-inspiring." Untilrecently, Florida Splendid China also included a Buddhist prayercarpet rolled up on the slope leading up to the palace, which tinyTibetan monks would unroll if visitors inserted a quarter into theslot of an electronic command. The message was purely Communist:Monks would perform any service for money. After repeated protests byTibetan Buddhists, the park management withdrew that part of theexhibit.


Nevertheless, including Tibet's Potala Palace in atheme park dedicated to the splendors of Chinese culture remains ahighly provocative and ultimately political act. The United Nationshas voted three resolutions condemning China's illegal occupation ofTibet, which began when Mao sent the first PLA units across Tibet'sinternationally-recognized borders in late 1949, only weeks after thesuccess of China's Communist revolutionaries. Mao launched afull-scale invasion of Tibet the following year, overwhelming the8,000 men of the Tibetan army.

Alarmed at the Communist invasion, the TibetanNational Assembly convened an emergency meeting and requested thatthe fourteenth Dalai Lama, then 15 years old, assume full authorityas head of state, and that he leave the Tibetan capital Lhasa for atown near the border with India to ensure his personal safety. TheChinese annexed whole portions of the eastern part of the country tothe neighboring Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, and Gansu. Thebulk of the Amdo region, together with a small area of Kham province,were split off to form a new province of the People's Republic calledQinghai.

In 1951, Mao forced a peace treaty on a captiveTibetan delegation in Peking intended to bestow legitimacy on theChinese military occupation, and created the Tibet AutonomousRegional Government within the PRC. Tibetans launched a full-scalerebellion against the occupation in 1959, when the Dalai Lama fled toIndia, followed by some 80,000 of his people. An official ChineseArmy intelligence report from 1960 admits that the PLA killed 87,000Tibetan resistance fighters in Lhasa and the surrounding areasbetween March and October 1959 alone.

Following the exile of the Dalai Lama,international human-rights groups estimate that anywhere from 20 to30 percent of Tibet's entire population was massacred by the Chinese.(The Dalai Lama's Office of Tibet conservatively estimates that justover 1 million Tibetans -- out of a total population of 6 million --have been killed by the Chinese during the occupation.) Once thecrackdown began, Mao ordered the PLA to attack the centers of TibetanBuddhism, since the Dalai Lama had become a symbol of resistance forTibetans.

The new Communist rulers forced monks and nuns tocopulate in public on the streets of Lhasa, according tocontemporaneous accounts. The Tibetan Government in Exile claims thatChinese troops destroyed more than a thousand monasteries in 1959Chinese government statistics paint an even more gruesome picture,with the cold-blooded precision only a totalitarian regime canmuster. In a survey on "population changes," published in Peking in1989, the Peking government revealed that the number of "functioningmonasteries and temples" in Tibet had dropped from 2,611 in 1958, tojust )70 in 1960, while the clerical population had been diminishedover the same period from 114,100 to 18,104-clinical terms fordescribing mass murder. By 1976, according to official Chinesegovernment statistics, only eight monasteries and nunneries remain inthe whole of Tibet.

This year marks four decades since the bloodysuppression of the Tibetan independence movement and the flight intoexile of the Dalai Lama. As it happens, it also marks 50 years sinceMao announced the "liberation" of the independent states of Tibet andEast Turkestan, and sent the PLA across their borders to begin ahalf-century of military occupation and repression; 30 years sincethe Red Guards ravaged the Republic of Inner Mongolia during theCultural Revolution, slaughtering 50,000 Mongols while injuring andtorturing over a million more; 20 years since the birth of thepro-democracy movement throughout China; and 10 years since theTiananmen Square massacres.

As China's leaders celebrate 50 years of Communistrule this year, they no doubt would prefer to forget those moresomber anniversaries. For Peking, l999 is the Year of All Dangers. Itbegan with the arrest of Chinese intellectuals seeking to form anopposition party, and in just a few short weeks led to the harshestcrackdown on political dissidents since Tiananmen.

China's latest actions fly in the face of promisesmade to the Clinton administration to show greater tolerance ofpolitical opposition, and directly flout a written pledge only sixmonths earlier to accept the conditions of democratic discourse ofthe International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights. The reasonfor today's harsh actions is simple: China's rulers understand thatthe conquered peoples under their control are straining at the yoke,and they fear that the string of anniversaries set to occur this yearcould prove the inspiration for their liberation.


"I think what happened in Tibet was close togenocide," says George Chen. But after consulting with a panel ofhistorians sent over by the Chinese government to oversee theplanning of Florida Splendid China, he says he came to the conclusionthat including a model of the Potala Palace would "serve as a forumfor people to express their concern with the behavior of the ChineseCommunist govemment. Without it we would not have had the protests orthe public discussions." Indeed, the inclusion of the Palace--and ofseveral other exhibits from the formerly independent states of InnerMongolia and East Turkestan--has inspired calls for boycotting thepark.

One week before Florida Splendid China opened itsdoors to the public in December 1993 CTS bought out Chen and hismother. "It was clear our Chinese government partners preferred tohave absolute control,' Chen said. 'They didn't want me around onopening day." The reason was simple, Chen believes. CTS had investedin Florida Splendid China on orders from China's State Council, andintended the park to serve as a vehicle for Communist propaganda.They didn't want to risk having a Taiwanese-American partner aroundwho might spoil the effect by talking democracy or humanrights.

If Chen and his mother had wanted the park toshowcase China's ancient culture and its values, and suggest that theCommunist regime was not eternal, the Chinese government sought toconvey precisely the opposite message. So they put the squeeze on theChens almost from the start, first by trying to micromanage thepark's construction, and in the end by simply buying them out. By thetime the park was getting spruced up for the opening, it was clear toChen that CTS was determined to get rid of them and was, in effect,putting its "final offer" on the table. He feared that if he turnedthem down the family's entire investment would be at risk.

The park held a private viewing the day before itofficially opened that was attended by 2,400 guests and dignitaries,including Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen and three other topChinese Communist officials. Messages of congratulation, reproducedin the park promotional brochure, were sent by President Jiang Zemin(then Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party), Premier LiPeng, and former PRC President Yang Shang Kun.

The Chinese also assembled an "organizingcommittee" of prominent Americans they hoped would provide them withpolitical cover, although few if any of those named in the FloridaSplendid China official literature ever showed up. The committeeincluded former President Richard Nixon (at the personal request ofthe PRC ambassador to Washington); Florida Governor Lawton Chiles;former Secretary of State Alexander Haig (who represents major U.S.companies seeking to expand their business in China); and Rep. BillMcCollum, who represents the district where the park is located.(McCollum's office says he never attended the opening and has norecollection of having endorsed the park.)

A different group of guests-- uninvited andunwelcome showed up for the opening: Outside the front gates, TibetanBuddhist monks wearing traditional saffron robes carried signsdenouncing China's illegal occupation of their homeland. They wereaccompanied by Jack Churchward, a former U.S. Navy technician whoconverted to Tibetan Buddhism and now heads the Committee againstCommunist Chinese Propaganda in Clearwater, Florida. Churchwardclaims that a park security guard informed him that one of thevisiting Chinese officials asked the chairman of CTS to call thepolice to have them removed. When told that was not possible,Churchward says, "He told the head of Park Security to have uskilled." (The current director of Florida Splendid China, Sonny Yang,denies the charge.)

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the protesters"have dogged the attraction for years....They charge that, behind thepastoral scenes and tiny replicas of Chinese landmarks, is apropaganda effort by the Chinese government to polish its image andwhitewash its mistreatment of minority groups." The protesters havealso set up a Web site detailing their case (, andare calling on the Department of Justice to take action against theU.S. company set up to operate the park--arguing that the companyserves as the unregistered representative of a foreign government, inviolation of federal law.

Sonny Yang dismisses the possibility of changingor removing any exhibits in exchange for ending the protests."Florida Splendid China is not a political statement," he insists."We're here to run a business, not to make politics." Business couldbe better. The park's first three years were rocked by protests,which attracted local media attention and helped keep attendance low.That period also saw some 42 Chinese performers--brought over fordisplays of acrobatics, traditional dance, and music-requestpolitical asylum in the U.S. One of these defectors wrote to a localcentral-Florida paper in January 1995 that management was holding theperformers against their will, preventing them from meeting outsidersor from traveling outside the park.

That has all changed, says Sonny Yang, who came toFlorida in March 1996 from the CTS branch office in Hong Kong. "Idon't know why those people left. Since I've been here, no one hasleft. They have two days off per week and can travel wherever theylike." (In fact, the dancers and acrobats perform six nights a week,and include three children under the age of 12.)

The early years of Florida Splendid China also sawa stream of official Chinese government delegations come toKissimmee for propaganda tours and for surprise "inspections"--including, in October 1996, a tour bus bearing diplomatic licenseplates traced back to the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C.(According to a U.S. intelligence source, CTS officials were seen atthe White House just before the bus tour, handing out free trips toFlorida Splendid China to National Security Council staffers.Repeated calls to the NSC for comment weren't returned.) George Chen,who has continued to follow the park's ups and downs, claims that topChinese government officials still seek to place their sons anddaughters on the payroll, a practice he says began when work firststarted in late 1991.

Churchward's group has written park managementrepeatedly, requesting they change exhibits that refer to minoritiesand to the occupied countries of Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and EastTurkestan as if they were happy parts of China. In addition to thePotala Palace, the group objects to the inclusion of replicas of theMausoleum of Ghengis Khan, the Mongol emperor who conquered China(and much of the rest of the world) in the thirteenth century; the IdKah Mosque, which is located in the East Turkestan city of Kashgarand is one of the best known in the Muslim world; and the Tomb ofXiang Fei, the widow of a slain Uighur king, Apak Hoja.

The Xiang Fei tomb provides a clear example of howthe Chinese Communist planners were seeking to "rewrite his tory,"George Chen believes. In the caption on display in the park, the tombis said to have been built by the Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong, whotook Xiang Fei as a concubine after slaying her husband in battle.The Emperor was so taken by her "wondrous bodily fragrance" that hebuilt a splendid tomb in her memory, the caption reads, informingviewers that the name Xiang Fei means "fragrant Imperial Concubine."

That story is simply a lie, according to Chen andto Ablajan Layli Naman, head of the International Taklamakan UighurHuman Rights Association. The building where Xiang Fei was buried wasactually built by Uighurs as the tomb of Apak Hoja's father, morethan 70 years prior to the Chinese government claim, and contains nofewer than 72 members of the Kashkar ruling family--but not a singleChinese. Xiang Fei never became the concubine of the Chinese emperor;rather, she committed suicide shortly after her husband was slain inbattle in order to prevent her own capture by the Chinese. "The tombof Apak Hoja is an expression of national resistance," Layli Namansays.

As for the Id Kah mosque, the park claims it wasbuilt by the Chinese in 1789, when in reality it was built more than300 years earlier by residents of Kashgar, in 1442. "Why are theytrying to appropriate our history?" Naman asks. His group hasprotested the inclusion of the mosque, which he calls an "EastTurkestani religious icon," because it gives the impression that thePRC looks benevolently toward its Muslim minority when in reality ithas conducted a systematic 50-year campaign of repression again it.In 1996, the PLA put down pro-independence riots that had spreadthroughout East Turkestan, killing dozens of protesters by officialaccounts. The Chinese government refers to the Uighur independencemovement as "splittists" -- the same term it uses for the Dalai Lamaand his followers. It fears that ethnic and religious rightsmovements will lead to the break-up of the People's Republic ofChina, just as the Soviet Union was broken up in 1991.


By all accounts, Florida Splendid China has been acommercial flop. Sonny Yang admits that they average a scant 400 to500 entries per day but insists they began making money last yearafter repaying the initial $100 million investment. George Chenbelieves that's a stretch. "The Chinese government continues to pumpin fresh money for maintenance and salaries. They can't allow thePark to fail, because that would mean losing face. They send moneywhenever it is needed."

So why spend all that hard currency to maintain afailing theme park in the backyard of giants Disney, UniversalStudios, and Seaworld, each of which banks tens of thousands ofentries on an average day. First of all, to "exemplify Sino-U.S.economic and technical cooperation and our abilities to productivelyinteract with one another," the park's Chinese founder, Ma Chi Man,explained in a promotional brochure. The park is "the eternal symbolof Sino-U.S. friendship," he gushed. More significant, perhaps, washis desire for the park to "tell the story of the Chinese people."That's where the inclusion of exhibits on subjugated minorities andoccupied lands becomes important.

In previously secret minutes of the 1993 BeijingPropaganda Conference obtained by the International Campaign forTibet, the strategy of the Chinese Communist Party toward ethnicminorities and occupied territories is made crystal clear:

"With regard to the attacks by the West and theDalai [Lama] clique and their frequent activities, ourexternal propaganda should launch offensives. We should expand ourspheres of influence, in particular, we should infiltrate ourpropaganda into the mainstream life of the West. Firstly, we shouldcontinue to send Tibetan scholars and Tibetan singing and dancingtroupes abroad to lecture and perform. Secondly, relevant embassiesand consulates should aim at public opinion and the activities of theDalai Clique in the countries they are stationed and utilizespeeches, picture exhibitions, special articles and other forms tocarry out propaganda work, so as to win over officials and people ofthose countries. Thirdly, TV programs for external broadcastingshould include programs about Tibet. We should broadcast to Europeand America so that our propaganda can directly reach audiences ofthe Western countries."

Cultural exchanges, dancing troupes, exhibits -that is exactly the mission of Florida Splendid China. The goal is topresent smiling peasants, industrious artisans, and spectacularscenery - all as an integral part of one unified China.


The Chinese government also offers images ofsmiling Mongolian horsemen and other docile minorities at DisneyWorld's international showcase, known as Epcot. An exhibit inEpcot's China pavillion called "Land of Many Faces" (prepared withthe help of the Yunnan Provincial Museum in the mainland city ofKunming).highlights four Chinese minorities, the Miai, Naxi, Yi, andMongols, "to offer a window into the many cultures of China's ethnicgroups. The propaganda message is only slightly more heavy-handed ina 360 degree film spectacular of Chinese landscapes, narrated by theholographic image of an 8th century Chinese poet. From Mongolianyurts, where the poet is offered tea by smiling tribesmen, the scenechanges to Peking's Forbidden city, where the message becomes moreopenly political. "Gone are the warlords, the landlords, andemperors," the smiling poet says. The former Imperial Palace "is nowa special place for all Chinese." Similarly, street scenes ofdesperate poverty from the market place in the capital city of theProvince of Xinkiang (occupied East Turkestan), are accompanied bygay music, presenting the theme of the contented peasants again.Disney appears to have learned from Florida Splendid China'stravails, and carefully made no reference to Tibet. But Peking'smessage was as clear as ever.


A key part of Florida Splendid China's marketingstrategy is the outreachprogram to American school children. The parksends out promotional mailings all over the country, offering specialdiscounts to school groups and teachers. "We get tens of thousands ofkids coming to the park each year," says marketing director KristieJoyce. "We offer them guided tours, and let them bring their ownlunch and eat in the park. It is definitely a major part of thePark's activity to attract school children." You can be sure theydon't get a history lesson on the People's Republic of China duringtheir visit.

Field trips sponsored by public schools "implieslegitimacy and approval and State and local government," says JackChurchward. "They are trying to brainwash young kids into believingthat places such as Tibet, East Turkestan, and Inner Mongolia arepart of China, when in fact they are occupied territories that makeup two-thirds of the territory of the PRC. If the Chinese Communistgovernment can convince people that these areas are Chinese, thenhalf the job is done."

Churchward's committee has tried to counter thepark's propaganda by appealing directly to Florida school boards andteachers associations. In 1995, they convinced the Pinellas CountyTeachers Association to enact a ban on using public money for fieldtrips to Florida Splendid China. Churchward says this didn't phasepark officials who were "willing to snub the 7th largest schooldistrict in the state of Florida - and the 23rd largest in the U.S. -in order to maintain their signs. That shows that the park's messageis more important than income," Churchward adds. In April 1996, theFlorida Teaching Professionals-National Education Association StateConference in Orlando passed a resolution banning personal or schooltrips to Florida Splendid China for its members, recommending thatthe ban remain in place until the exhibit on Tibet was removed oruntil China "recognizes the sovereignty of the Nation ofTibet."

Confronted with these disputes, Kristie Joyce hasnothing to say. Asked if she is aware that Tibet and East Turkestanwere invaded by the Chinese Communist government and remain undermilitary occupation, or that China has been condemned in the UnitedNations repeatedly for its occupation of Tibet, she finally answers:"I'm not going to comment on what I'm personally aware of ornot."

In one of the park's souvenir shops, Americanemployee Ray Weeks showed similar ignoranced as he gushed about thebeauty and peacefulness of the park. "This is an intellectual'sparadise," Weeks said. "It's not meant for people looking for thrillrides like Twister." When told about the military occupation of Tibetand East Turkestan, Weeks said: "That's news to me, but I intend tofind out more." He certainly won't find it by touring FloridaSplendid China, where the only message is that of an eternal China,at peace with itself, living in harmony with its subjectminorities.