Splendid China: A controversial abandoned theme park in Florida

Nikola Petrovski

Located in Four Corners, Florida, near Orlando and Disney World, this theme park was named Splendid China. It opened its doors for the first time in 1993 and was the site of fun and recreation until its closure.

The park was named Splendid China after its sister theme park with the same name in Shenzhen, China, which remains open to visitors today. The total cost of building the Florida-based theme park was around $100 million.

Splendid China entrance sign. Author: Mark Goebel CC BY 2.0

Splendid China entrance sign. Author: Mark Goebel CC BY 2.0

In its heyday, it was a miniature park situated on 30 hectares of land with about 60 handmade replicas built at one tenth scale.

For example, the park’s replica of the Great Wall took nearly seven million 25 mm long bricks to finish the wall, and the replica of the Leshan Buddha–a colossal 233 feet tall in real life–was made four stories tall.

Almost nothing remains. Author: Pat David CC BY-SA 2.0

Almost nothing remains. Author: Pat David CC BY-SA 2.0

 

 

Completely destroyed and demolished. Author: Rhys A. CC BY 2.0

Completely destroyed and demolished. Author: Rhys A. CC BY 2.0

At the grand opening and afterward, the theme park put on shows featuring a rotating cast of 60 dancers, actors, and acrobats that came from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The original idea for this Florida theme park was that of Josephine Chen, a former educator from Taiwan.

Years earlier in 1988, Josephine Chen had toured the prototype park “Splendid China Miniature Scenic Spot” in Shenzhen, China. The Florida theme park was so successful that the initial US$100 million investment was returned during its first year of operation when it had approximately 3.5 million visitors.

Derelict buildings at the ruined park. Author: Rhys A. CC BY 2.0

Derelict buildings at the ruined park. Author: Rhys A. CC BY 2.0

On December 19, 1989, construction on the Florida branch of Splendid China began. Some four years later in December 1993, the Chinese Government bought the American partners.

Abandoned Splendid China park. Author: Rhys A. CC BY 2.0

Abandoned Splendid China park. Author: Rhys A. CC BY 2.0

During this same year, demonstrations started against perceived Chinese Communist Party propaganda. Namely the theme park had exhibits that were not of Chinese origin. For example, a quote from the critics states the following;

Specifically, we are protesting the inclusion of the Potala Palace that was built by the Tibetan people and served as the home of successive Dalai Lamas since 1645, the Id Gah Mosque and Tomb of Abakh Hoja which serve as cultural icons of the people of Eastern Turkestan and the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan and the Mongolian Yurt exhibit which attempt to add a Chinese name to the Southern Mongolian people.

Dark and Demolished. Author: Pat David CC BY-SA 2.0

Dark and Demolished. Author: Pat David CC BY-SA 2.0

As a consequence, in November 1995, the Florida’s Pinellas County school board voted to ban trips to Splendid China. One year later, during the 11th demonstration against perceived Chinese Communist Party propaganda, five college students closed the front gate of Florida Splendid China theme park in front of a large crowd of demonstrators.

The theme park in 2013. Author: Rhys A. CC BY 2.0

The theme park in 2013. Author: Rhys A. CC BY 2.0

In 1996, the decision was made to change the name of the theme park to Chinatown. But protests did not abate; the brother of the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, Takster Rinpoche, attended the 20th demonstration at Florida Splendid China.

Inside the abandoned structures. Author: Rhys A. CC BY 2.0

Inside the abandoned structures. Author: Rhys A. CC BY 2.0

In 1999, the Far East Economic Review reported that Florida Splendid China was losing about $9 million per year. So, inevitably, the announcement came that the theme park was heading toward closure in May of 2000.

The Splendid China theme park was finally closed on December 31, 2003. Given the negative feeling directed at the theme park, after its closure, the park suffered a rash of attacks from thieves and vandals.

The park is covered in graffiti. Author: Rhys A. CC BY 2.0

The park is covered in graffiti. Author: Rhys A. CC BY 2.0

 

Graffiti in the theme park. Author: Rhys A. CC BY 2.0

Graffiti in the theme park. Author: Rhys A. CC BY 2.0

Almost everything on the premises was stolen. Even items ranging from small miniatures to portions of life-size statues were not spared, and the thieves were never apprehended.

When vandals come to visit. Author: Rhys A. CC BY 2.0

When vandals come to visit. Author: Rhys A. CC BY 2.0

The park changed hands several times over the years. The last of the owners decided to tear down the park and commenced demolition on May 9, 2013. Three years later, by March 2016, the theme park was gone.