Epcot's China Pavilion - Part Two
Yesterday I discussed the promenade, gardens, and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests of the China Pavilion. Today I’ll discuss the Circle-Vision 360 movie, museum, shops, and restaurants that make up this interesting World Showcase nation.
Venturing past the rotunda of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests you come to the waiting room for the “Reflections of China” 360 film. A clock above the stage indicates how long until the next show begins. If the wait is longer than 10 minutes, venture through the nearby door and enjoy the current exhibit, “Tomb Warriors: Guardian Spirits of Ancient China.” I’ll discuss this display in more detail later.
Before I talk about the “Reflections of China” movie, I would like to discuss the film’s predecessor, “Wonders of China: Land of Beauty, Land of Time.”
Planning for World Showcase begin in the mid to late ‘70’s, only a few years after Nixon’s famous trip to China in 1972. Although relations with China were improving, the country was still shrouded in mystery and many areas of this vast land were off limits to foreigners. When Disney requested permission to film the country for a travelogue-type movie, the Chinese were interested, but leery. They insisted that all filming be strictly supervised and aerial shots of the Great Wall and Tibet were out of bounds.
Knowing that the limitations set by the Chinese government would greatly limit the Imagineers ability to create a compelling movie, negotiations for more freedom ensued, but little progress was achieved. In a last ditch effort, Disney sent a final contingent to meet with officials to see if they could loosen up some of the restrictions placed upon them. They concluded the negotiations with a special showing of the movie Fantasia. This Disney classic seemed to do the trick and arrangements agreeable to both parties were worked out.
The film would be shot in Circle-Vision, a technique pioneered and refined by the Disney Company for Disneyland in the 1950’s. This method requires nine cameras be mounted on a platform facing outwards in a circle to capture 360 degrees of scenery. This apparatus is then positioned atop some sort of a moving vehicle or suspended from a plane or helicopter.
The Disney film crew scoured China for two months, scouting locations to be included in the movie. Actual filming began in autumn, 1981 and the crew returned in the winter of 1982 to capture the seasonal changes. The Disney crew was the first Western film group to shoot in many areas of the country. When aerial shots of sensitive areas were required, the Disney director relayed his desires to his Chinese counterpart. Then, only the Chinese film crew would go aloft and film the sequence. Once back on the ground, the footage was reviewed by the American crew who would decide if the task had been achieved or if a second or third take was needed.
When filming the Huangshan Mountain sequence, over three dozen locals were hired to haul the 300-pound camera apparatus up 16,700 stone steps. After the editing was completed, this labor intensive scene only lasted a few seconds on screen.
Filming wrapped up in spring of 1982.
To make the movie more interesting and less like a travelogue one might see on TV, an ancient poet, Li Bai was added into the mix. Li Bai acted as narrator and educator, but his dialogue was limited. It was felt the visual wonders depicted in the film could better tell the story. The axiom “less is more” was employed.
Known in the West as Li Po, this poet wrote during the Tang period, which is often called China’s “Golden Age” of poetry. Around a thousand of Li Bai’s poems still exist today.
After all editing on the movie had been completed, the film was 19 minutes in length and presented a breathtaking view of a country most westerners had never seen. “Wonders of China” was also shown at Disneyland in Tomorrowland from 1984 to 1996.
For twenty years, “Wonders of China” had been a mainstay of the World Showcase list of attractions, but the film was beginning to show its age. During this time, Shanghai had become a world-class city with skyscrapers reaching to the heavens and China had taken back possession of Hong Kong and Macau. None of this was depicted in the film. In addition, China’s tourist industry had moved into high gear. When the film debuted, few Americans had ever seen this ancient land. With the turn of the new millennium, this was no longer true. China had become a popular vacation destination. It was time for the movie to be updated. “Wonders of China” was shown for the last time on March 25, 2003.
On May 23 of that same year, a new film incorporating segments from the original movie and new footage recently shot premiered. The new version of the movie was shortened to twelve and a half minutes and contains glimpses of Hong Kong and Macau. All of the scenes of Shanghai were completely replaced. Updated shots of the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, Harbin, and Urumqi were added. In addition, Li Bai’s dialog was rewritten. Since the actor’s beard covers his mouth in many scenes, the Imagineers were able to rewrite much of his dialogue without having to film a new actor.
Here is a list of all of the scenes seen in “Reflections of China” in order of appearance:
1. The Great Wall at Jinshanling
2. Shanghai from the Bund with a view of Pudong
3. Shanghai montage
4. Nanjing Road, Shanghai
5. Shanghai from the riverfront park
6. Huangpu waterfront
7. Morning exercises in Hangzhou
8. Huangshan mountain
9. Li Bai's study
10. Yangtze River
11. Suzhou canals and garden
12. Heavenly Lake in wilderness of Xinjiang Province
13. Urumqi night market
14. Gobi Desert, Gansu Province
15. Inner Mongolia
16. Yunnan Province
17. Shilin Stone Forest, Yunnan Province
18. Harbin Ice Festival, Heilongjiang Province
20. Hong Kong
21. Hong Kong skyline
22. Dragon Wall in Behai Park, Beijing
23. Terracotta Soldiers
24. Ming Tomb Statues
25. Giant Buddah of Leshan
26. Peking Opera performing "Havoc in Heaven"
27. Forbidden City in Beijing
28. Tien An Men Square in Beijing
29. Behai Park, Beijing
30. Reed Flute Cave at Guilin
31. Limestone formations at Guilin
32. Li River
33. The Great Wall at Jinshanling
There are no seats in the theater. Guests stand during the entire presentation. Although there are no bad areas, I would suggest finding a spot in the middle or toward the rear of the theater. (When you enter the theater, you will notice a podium to your right. This is considered the “front” of the auditorium.) Although the movie is presented in Circle-Vision and you will be in a constant state of movement trying to take it all in, the film definitely has a focal point which can be found on the screen directly above the podium. The theater can easily accommodate wheelchairs and ECVs. And remember, the lean rails were not designed to support your weight or that of your children. They were named “lean” rails because you’re supposed to lean against them. If Disney had wanted you to sit on them, they would have named them “sit” rails.
In 1974, local farmers in Xi'an, China were digging a water well about one mile away from the Qin Emperor’s tomb mound. For centuries, roofing tiles, bricks, and other bits of masonry were found in this area, but the farmers unearthed something remarkable, a figure of a soldier. This find prompted Chinese archaeologist to investigate further and the famous Terracotta Army was eventually unearthed.
The terracotta figures are life-sized and vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank. Their purpose was to guard Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, in the afterlife. It is believed that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there are over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 520 chariot horses, and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits
On October 1, 2006, a new exhibit came to the House of the Whispering Willows gallery, a scaled down model of this famous terracotta army and excavation. Entitled “Tomb Warriors: Guardian Spirits of Ancient China,” this remarkable reproduction is impressive and makes you ponder the enormous scale of the original in China.
It is believed that when the ancient Chinese were constructing the life-sized soldiers, six basic face molds were used. Then, artists would use additional clay to ensure that every statue had a unique countenance. This painstaking attention to detail can be seen on this scaled-down model. If you look closely, each man is an individual.
Here is a representation of what these figures might have looked like when new and before their paint had chipped and faded.
Authentic artifacts can also be enjoyed in this gallery. Mingqi pieces from the collection of Lillian and Ezekiel Schloss have been secured with additional objects in storage to be used for occasional updates to the exhibit.
While in the gallery, be sure to look up and admire the ceiling. It is yet another work of art. If you look closely, you’ll see the dragons have five claws. Noticing ceilings is something you should get into the habit of doing while visiting any Disney venue.
The main thoroughfare of the China Pavilion is called Street of Good Fortune. This street was inspired by roadways found in both Beijing and Shanghai. The Imagineers intentionally designed this area to be narrower than crowd control would demand. This was done to help guests experience the crowded conditions the Chinese experience every day.
The Street of Good Fortune is filled with details. I could spend an hour here just enjoying the rich architecture.
As we know, the West occupied a number of cities in China during the colonial period of the 18th and 19th centuries. This foreign influence can be seen on one building in particular. This “telephone company” structure has a distinctly European flavor with Asian accents. It’s interesting to note, a pay telephone can be found in this building.
At the far end of the Street of Good Fortune is a biān zhōng bell. This instrument would be part of a set of bells (always in an odd number) and played during rituals and ceremonies. These bells did not have clappers, but were played by striking them with a mallet. Biān zhōng bells date back 2,000 to 3,500 years.
While on the Street of Good Fortune, take a look at the magnificent tile roofs. The craftsmanship here is mindboggling. Of special interest are the figures perched on the corner tiles. Here you can see 3rd-century ruler Prince Min sitting atop a hen. Because of the cruelty he imposed upon his subjects, he was eventually hanged. It is now customary to install an effigy to him on buildings throughout China as a warning to other tyrants. The various animals behind him are there to thwart any escape attempts. The first picture below was taken in Beijing, the second in Epcot.
The main shopping spot at the China Pavilion is the House of Good Fortune. This enormous shop carries everything from simple souvenirs to expensive works of art. This is one of my favorite World Showcase stores to browse and wander. I find the merchandise here fascinating.
It would be impossible to describe all of the goods available at the House of Good Fortune, so I’ll showcase just a few of the items I hope you will find of interest.
If you’re interested in palmistry, numerology, feng shui, and a host of other curious sciences, guides are available.
For home décor, beautiful vases, lanterns, and jade plants are just a few of the categories to choose from.
If you’re looking for a beverage, a large selection of Chinese teas is for sale. And for you wine aficionados, Dragon’s Hollow wine is available. This is the first premium wine to be produced in China.
For the ladies, jewelry from the inexpensive to the luxurious will tempt your pocket book.
The China Pavilion Kidcot station is also located in the House of Good Fortune. Those having their passport stamped here are in for an extra treat. The cast member will ask in what year were you born. Then he will stamp your passport with the appropriate “year” symbol. For example, I was born in 1952. So my passport would be stamped with a dragon as that is the Chinese sign I was born under.
Outside the House of Good Fortune are two lions. In China, the lion is regarded as a special creature as it was believed to be the king of all animals. The lion represented prestige and power and was often associated with an individual’s rank. Lions like these are often placed in front of gates or doorways as they were believed to have mystic and protective powers.
Although the two lions look like they’re both male due to their bushy manes, in fact, one is female. Look closely at their paws. The male has a ball underneath his right paw and the female has a lion cub under her left paw. The ball represents unity of the empire and the cub symbolizes prospering offspring.
The China Pavilion counter service restaurant is named Lotus Blossom Café. In the early years, this eatery was designed with a more traditional Chinese motif. The chairs and tables appeared to be made out of bamboo and the ordering station had a rural feel about it. A couple of years ago, the restaurant went through a transformation. It was decided to give this spot a cosmopolitan look that might be encountered on a busy street in Beijing or Shanghai. I like this spot for lunch. It’s nice to grab a table next to the railing and watch people pass by as you enjoy your meal. To see the complete menu, click here.
Next to Lotus Blossom Café is the pavilion’s table service eatery, Nine Dragons Restaurant.
Like its counter service counterpart, this establishment also underwent a transformation a few years back and its interior given a more sophisticated styling. When entering the lobby, be sure to look at the dragon relief overhead. It’s amazing.
Nine Dragons Restaurant serves Cantonese, Mongolian, Szechuan, Hunan and Kiangche-style specialties. The service here is good and the atmosphere lovely. This is also one of the last World Showcase restaurants to fill its reservation quotas. I think part of this has to do with the fact that many people associate this establishment with their corner, home-delivery Chinese restaurant. I admit, the prices here are considerably more than you’ll pay at your local Chinese eatery, but the experience is far superior. If you haven’t already done so, I suggest giving this spot a try on your next trip to World Showcase. I suspect you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
That’s it for the China Pavilion. I hope you have learned a few new things and your next visit to World Showcase will be a little more interesting because of this blog.
As always, I have created a video showcasing the China Pavilion. In this case, the video is a little longer than usual running at just shy of 16 minutes. Part of this extra length has to do with The Jeweled Dragon Acrobats. I condensed their 20 minute show down to 5 minutes and added it to the end of the presentation. Enjoy.