Mice get into everything. Just look at the best-known member of the species, Mickey. Since World War II he’s infiltrated every Bedouin tent and Russian dacha with a TV antenna. It truly is a small world after all, or so the Walt Disney Company used to think. Then Disney decided to open a theme park in Hong Kong. After determining that roughly 30 percent of their draw would need to come from mainland China, Disney sent emissaries into the hinterlands to gauge brand awareness. The Chinese, they discovered, barely knew who Mickey was, much less Donald, Goofy, and the rest of the gang. This was a problem for Disney, whose parks in Japan and Europe relied on existing interest in Disney’s characters. Luckily for Disney, it was also a problem for the Chinese government, which had invested $2.8 billion in exchange for a 57 percent stake in the Hong Kong theme park.

Enter the Chinese Communist Youth League, the venerable (it was founded in 1922, nearly three decades before Mao came to power) and massive (68 million Chinese between the ages of 14 and 28 call themselves members) organization that grooms China’s future party functionaries. With the tacit approval of Chinese President Hu Jintao, Disney linked up with the league to prepare China’s young people for the park’s September 2005 opening. Disney has sent video and music materials to the league’s thousands of “youth palaces,” and held “storytelling sessions” in a “grassroots brand-building program” meant to introduce Chinese youth to everything Disney. In the Guangzhou province, kids have been learning to draw their own Mickey cartoons.

“Education in China is changing,” says the vice president of the new park’s public affairs, “to encourage greater imagination and creativity. And that’s what our business is about.”


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend


Give a Year of the Truth

at our special holiday rate

just $12

Order Now

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.