When the idea for a World Showcase of nations was beginning to gel, Disney sent feelers out to a number of countries to see how much interest could be generated and how much financial support could be secured. Among those solicited were two communist countries, China and the Soviet Union. Both liked the idea and were willing to commit, but the Soviet Union stipulated that communist ideals must be presented at its pavilion. The Imagineers said this was unacceptable and the Soviets backed out. However, China made no such demand. They were more than happy to present a representation of their architecture, heritage, and culture and leave politics out of the mix.
The beauty of the China Pavilion begins on the shores of World Showcase Lagoon. Three large rocks (one now hidden behind Good Fortune Gifts) and several stone benches have been placed at water’s edge. Centuries ago, the Chinese believed that contemplation of unusual rock forms brought inner peace and serenity. So profound was this practice that ancient rulers would spend considerable amounts of money and engage hundreds of men to search for and transport a particularly interesting rock back to the palace. Some of these expeditions could last up to three years. The rocks at the China Pavilion offer good examples of thought-provoking boulders. Like looking at clouds, one’s imagination can easily see many images when studying these monoliths. Maybe on your next trip to Epcot, when you’re emotional energy is running on empty, you should try sitting for a moment to contemplate these rocks’ beauty and recharge your spirit.
Also at the water’s edge is the “Joy of Tea” stand. This small counter service eatery offers more than you might think. Besides the obvious hot and cold tea drinks, slushies, ice cream, BBQ pork buns, curry chicken pockets, egg rolls, and an interesting selection of alcoholic beverages can be purchased. This is a good spot to stave off thirst or hunger until more substantial offerings can be obtained.
Tea was discovered in China. According to popular legend, in 2737 BCE, Emperor Shennong was boiling water when a leaf from a nearby shrub fell into his pot and the hot liquid extracted its delicious flavor. Tea plays an integral part in Chinese culture and history and the beverage is considered one of the seven necessities of life, along with firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, and vinegar.
Next to the “Joy of Tea” stand is a little detail that is of monumental importance in China, a bicycle. This two-wheeled vehicle is inconspicuous and an easily missed detail at the China Pavilion, however, its importance cannot be downplayed. Anyone who has visited China knows that most people use this form of transportation for commuting. It’s not uncommon to see bikers in the middle of a busy street filled with automobiles. The second picture below was taken on a Beijing avenue and the third was taken in Shanghai of a bicycle parking lot.
Near the “Joy of Tea” stand is a shop named “Good Fortune Gifts.” This spot offers a nice selection of typical Chinese souvenirs. The puppets are especially appealing and guests can’t resist the temptation to give them a try.
At the south boundary of the China Pavilion, a stone and tile wall separates the gardens from the promenade. Have you ever noticed its wavelike appearance? This wall represents the back of a dragon, a creature important in Chinese lore.
Guests enter the China Pavilion by walking beneath Zhao Yan Men or Gate of the Golden Sun. This gate is a reproduction of one found at the Summer Palace located nine miles north of central Beijing. Construction of the Summer Palace began in 1750 and covers an area of approximately 1.8 square miles. The Summer Palace contains a lake, hills, gardens, pavilions, halls, and temples. The purpose of the Summer Palace was to provide an escape for royalty so they could rest and entertain in lavish style. Today the Summer Palace is open to the public and is a popular tourist destination. The first picture is of the original gate, the second at Epcot. (I have better luck taking people-less pictures at Epcot than I do in China. LOL)
Once passed the Gate of the Golden Sun, you cross a bridge which traverses a lovely lotus pool surrounded by a typical Chinese garden. These gardens were inspired by those in Suzhou, a large city located adjacent to Shanghai.
Be sure to take a walk along the winding pathway found at the far side of the garden. The atmosphere in this remote section of the pavilion is serene and some fantastic photo opportunities will present themselves. You just might discover a babbling brook as you enjoy this area.
Care was given when the Imagineers selected the plants for this garden. As always, they wanted to tell a story. For example, this Contorted Mulberry tree tells two stories. First, it was selected for its beauty. In China, this tree provides florists with a number of possibilities. Its foliage is large and turns golden in the autumn before the leaves fall. In the winter, its twisted branches add beauty to any garden or flower arrangement.
But this mulberry tree was also selected to represent China’s silk industry. Silk moths lay their eggs on mulberry leaves and their offspring feed on the greens until entering the larvae stage. At that time, the caterpillar encloses itself in a cocoon made from one single strand of silk. This strand can range in length from 1,000 to 3,000 feet, which can be unraveled and turned into thread. The famous Silk Road came into being sometime between 206 BCE – 220 CE. Although many goods were traded along this route between Asia and the Mediterranean, its name came from the magnificent silk textiles produced in China.
The following pictures (taken in Shanghai) show silk cocoons soaking in warm water to loosen the natural binding agent. The machinery is used to unravel the cocoon into thread.
Another plant found in the China garden is the camellia. This beautiful bush with dark green leaves and an array of different colored blossoms is a native of eastern Asia. It was cultivated in China and Japan for centuries before being exported to Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. In China, camellias are known as cháhuā (flowering tea) as many specimens are suitable for brewing.
How can we speak of Asia and not think of bamboo? This member of the grass family is widely used in China as a building material and as a food source. In Hong Kong, contractors use bamboo scaffolding (rather than metal piping) when building skyscrapers reaching 30 to 40 stories high.
For those of you looking for some one-on-one time with Mulan, you won’t be disappointed. Currently, this Chinese heroine makes her first appearance promptly at 11am when World Showcase opens. If you’re looking to avoid a line, be at the Norway Pavilion rope-drop a few minutes before 11 then scurry over to the garden area just past the Gate of the Golden Sun.
In 1997, Buena Vista International (a Disney owned company) distributed the movie “Kundun” a biography about the Dalai Lama. The Chinese government felt the movie was inflammatory and threatened to block Disney’s access to Chinese markets if they continued with the project. A boycott of this nature would have a significant impact on Disney given that in 1994 “The Lion King” was China’s highest grossing film. Yet, Disney did not back down.
Disney hoped the movie “Mulan” might help smooth over the soured relations the film “Kundun” had generated. However, China only allows ten Western movies per year to be shown within their borders and having a film selected is an arduous undertaking -- and Disney’s current standing with China wasn’t going to help in the selection process. Finally, after a year of negotiations and delays, the Chinese government allowed “Mulan” a limited release, but only after the Chinese New Year, so that local films could dominate the more lucrative holiday market
Perhaps the most popular street entertainment to be enjoyed at World Showcase can be found at the China Pavilion. To say The Jeweled Dragon Acrobats are amazing is a vast understatement. Their gymnastic performance is jaw-dropping. It’s not possible for the human body to do what these gifted athletes accomplish – yet it’s right there before your eyes to watch in disbelief.
The show is presented in the courtyard just beyond the Gate of the Golden Sun. If you want a good viewing spot, I suggest showing up twenty minutes before the show. Those guests lining the rope (and several layers back) will be asked to sit on the concrete to allow those standing behind to see. And just because you’ve enjoyed one performance doesn’t mean you’ve seen it all. Different feats are staged at the various shows throughout the day. Currently, The Jeweled Dragon Acrobats perform five days a week and stage five shows per day. Check your Times Guide for more information.
This is a MUST SEE Epcot attraction! Plan your tour of World Showcase accordingly.
The centerpiece of the China Pavilion is a reproduction of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests which is part of the Temple of Heaven complex located southeast of central Beijing. The complex was built between 1406 and 1420 during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, who also oversaw the construction of the Forbidden City. The temple is constructed completely out of wood and was built without nails. It was here that the emperor would make sacrifices and pray to heaven and his ancestors at the winter solstice, asking for a good a harvest in the coming year. The circular blue roof represents the sky and heaven. Red is the color of royalty.
The Disney version of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests was built at ½ scale of the original (and does contain a few nails).
Like everything the Imagineers do, the details here are stunning. In an effort to capture the authenticity of the original temple, the Imagineers silkscreened hundreds of elaborate patterns onto each and every tile of the structure. The next three sets of pictures showcase the details of the original and the Disney copy. The first picture in each pair was taken in Beijing, the second in Epcot.
You will notice two creatures are represented on the temple, the dragon and the phoenix. The dragon represents power, and if the dragon has five claws, it represents the power of the emperor. The phoenix symbolizes peace and prosperity. When paired, they signify marriage.
Leading up to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a beautiful marble relief. If you’ll notice, the dragons have five claws, indicating this was a temple used by the emperor. Once again, the first picture in each pair was taken in Beijing and the second in Epcot.
Inside the real Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests you would find an altar and other spiritual paraphernalia. At the China Pavilion, the interior rotunda acts as a lobby for the upcoming “Reflections of China” movie.
Within the rotunda, notice the twelve outer columns that support the roof. These represent the months of the year and the twelve-year cycle of the Chinese calendar. Another four columns can be found closer to the center of the room and represent the four seasons. These four columns support four beams which are arranged to create a square. This square represents the earth. Above the “earth” is a circular beam which symbolizes heaven.
The domed ceiling is a magnificent work of art. Although difficult to make out, the gold medallion in the center sports a dragon and phoenix.
The importance of numerology continues to be seen on the rotunda floor. The center stone is surrounded by nine stones. Nine is a lucky number in China. So important is the significance of this number to some believers that a Hong Kong businessman paid $1.67 million for a license plate bearing the single numeral 9 in 1994.
This center stone also allows guests to have some fun. Stand anywhere within the rotunda and utter a few words out loud. Nothing significant will happen. Then stand directly on the center stone and speak again. This time, your voice will bounce off of the ceiling and be directed back at you. You will literally hear yourself talk.
That’s it for Part One of the China Pavilion. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.
The previous post in this blog was Tea Cups at the Disney Theme Parks.
The next post in this blog is Epcot's China Pavilion - Part Two.