The Big Buddha of Hong Kong: an accidental Buddhist theme park

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8 Citations (Scopus)


The Tian Tan Buddha is the core of a tourism site on Lantau Island, Hong Kong, around which a cable car ride, the Po-Lin monastery and its museum, and the village of Ngong Ping have come to comprise an eclectic set of tourism nuclei that ‘accidentally’ became the ‘Buddhist theme park’ of Hong Kong due to the spatial juxtaposition in an isolated site of these disconnected and even dissonant components built at different times by different jurisdictions. The first objective of this article is to explore the developmental process of a religious site into a theme park of sort through a lengthy process filled with contestation and manipulations. The history-dependent and erratic nature of this process validates the notion of ‘accidental’ theme park used here. It is shown that over time, the Big Buddha went from being a Buddhism-themed leisure site to being generally perceived and promoted as essentially a theme park through a process of partial Disneyization. The second objective is to examine how the ‘theme park’ is perceived by its visitors, more precisely how they see it after their visit and what first-time visitors expect from it beforehand. The first enquiry, performed through the analysis of TripAdvisor reviews, indicates that ex-post, the visitors typically describe having experienced a visit to a theme park. The second enquiry, performed by interviewing first-time visitors about to access the site, suggests that while many first-time visitors expect to visit a theme park as well, others, mainly Western tourists, are expecting a more cultural experience. The findings of the two inquiries are compared to each other and to the image of the site promoted by the local tourism authorities. The subdued political message of the Big Buddha and the degree to which it is discerned by visitors are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168-187
Number of pages20
JournalTourism Geographies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Big Buddha
  • Hong Kong
  • disneyization
  • theme park
  • themed park


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