‘Cuteifying’ spaces and staging marine animals for Chinese middle-class consumption

Chin Ee Ong*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper, Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai is considered an aestheticised space for the growing Chinese middle class. Located within the booming and fast-urbanising Pearl River Delta, the theme park is a sizeable project consisting of rides, marine mammal enclosures and a well-equipped state-of-the-art circus. Utilising ethnography, including visitor interviews, and discourse analysis of websites, mobile apps and promotional materials, the theme park is found to deploy animal motifs in three key ways: as spectacular backdrops for amusement rides, as objects of biodiversity-based edutainment and as highly personified agents in visitor relations. Building on existing literature on decontextualised animal display – where emphasis on the provision of a natural habitat is replaced by simulated and actual proximity of animals to the visitors – I argue that the ‘out-of-situ’, cuteified and hyperreal stagings of Chimelong's animals have been shaped by two further China-specific processes. The first is the engagement with the theme park space as a sanitised and safe environment for a then one-child policy inspired child-centred visitation. The second refers to the retail-oriented consumerist experiences demonstrated by the new Chinese middle class. Both processes have brought about an aestheticising endeavour in line with the idealisation of other (Chinese) middle-class spaces, and have positioned Chinese theme parks as key nodes in our understanding of leisure and tourism spaces and of middle-class landscapes in contemporary China. Such an examination is made at a juncture where and when abuse of marine mammals is allegedly on the rise, and sheds light on the social processes shaping the popularity of such experiences in contemporary China.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)188-207
JournalTourism Geographies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Animal–human relations
  • children
  • China
  • enclave
  • habitus
  • hyperreality
  • middle class
  • staging
  • theme parks


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