Marie Tussaud created her first wax figure – a scuplture of the French writer Voltaire – in 1777. Her talents brought her to England in 1802, although her first waxwork museum wouldn’t open in London until 30 years later. Similar patience have been required in Beijing, where the latest Madame Tussauds opened last month. “We planned to come to Beijing a few years ago,” Scott Williamson of Tussaud’s parent Merlin Entertainment told Economic Weekly. “But the problem was one of timing; i.e when our local partner could provide us with the ideal location.”
The site selected is Qianmen Street, a popular tourist destination. Unlike much of the Chinese capital, it is pedestrianised and features restored buildings that give a flavour of a bygone era. The thoroughfare averages 150,000 visitors a day, although that figure can surge above 300,000 on public holidays.
“Qianmen Street is an ideal location,” says Williamson, the director responsible for new markets at Merlin. “There are not only many tourists, but the location is also very convenient for local residents.”
The long wait means that the Beijing museum is not the first Tussauds in China – others have opened in Shanghai and Wuhan (there is also one in Hong Kong). The timing was governed by Tussaud’s partner, the real estate giant SOHO China. It has been involved in the transformation of Qianmen Street since 2007, but it lacked overall control of who tenanted it. That changed last year when SOHO got planning permission to redesignate the site as an ‘international tourism and cultural experience centre’ and eliminated the shops and businesses not in keeping with this new positioning. Finally, SOHO’s boss Pan Shiyi was able to offer Tussauds its desired site.
The new museum has four floors and features the usual collection of movie stars and singers. Williamson says David Beckham is the most popular wax figure at all 16 of its museums across the world, including those in China. But the Beijing site will add a bit more local flavour with a section called the ‘Chinese Spirit Pavilion’, which is designed to tell the story of China, Williamson says. Don’t just expect likenesses of emperors and generals. Contemporaries make the grade too, including gold medallists from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and internet tycoons like Baidu’s Robin Li. SOHO’s Pan features too (he donated clothes and spectacles to make his re-creation as realistic as possible).
Although Barack Obama is on display, as well as a stern-looking Vladimir Putin and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, there is no sign of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping or the current president Xi Jinping.
Karl Marx does make the cut, although Tussauds told AFP that it is “still in discussion” with authorities over including Chinese political figures.
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