China’s Billion Dollar Islamic-Themed Park Is No Tourism Mecca

Open Jaw

China's government is pouring billions of dollars into an Islamic theme park to attract Muslim tourists and boost its image in the Arab world.

But as NBC News reports, all that's missing are visitors.

The China Hui Culture Park boasts buildings that resemble the Taj Mahal and the Blue Mosque, and it is being expanded as part of a plan to transform a dusty plain in central Ningxia province into a tourism mecca.

The facility opened in 2005 but is seen as less a religious experience than a large-scale promotional display for the country’s largest Muslim group, the Hui.

Hui are ethnically Chinese, politically compliant and speak Mandarin, which helps ensure government approval for the practice of a state-sanctioned version of Islam in what is officially an atheist country.

"Coming here could help Arab people to know Chinese culture," Ma Guojing told NBC News. The local teacher was one of the few people willing to navigate the grime and heavy equipment during a recent visit. The parking lot was virtually empty, and ticket prices had been reduced from about $12 to $9. A booth attendant said the price cut was because of the ongoing construction.

Many of the attractions, such as the Arabian-themed dance and laser show, are either yet to be built or have been closed.

Beyond the lavish domed main gate, visitors are diverted along a path past a small temporary museum and a deserted restaurant to where dancers at the Hui "model village" sit waiting for an audience.

"Tourists come from all over the country, even the world to learn about Hui culture," one folk singer said. However, only 2 people watched the subsequent 20 min. performance.

EK recently inaugurated direct flights between Dubai and Yinchuan, where the local airport is undergoing a 900,000 sq. ft. expansion to accommodate the expected rush.

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