Spencer Murphy’s latest project documents the current state of Splendid China, the $100 million scenery park that was opened to the public in the heart of Orlando’s tourist district in 1993 but forced to close just ten years later. Beautifully shot, we were keen to find out more…
How did you discover Splendid China?
I was on a family holiday over New Year and as luck would have it the park was on the same road as our house. My sister’s boyfriend spotted it from the road. I didn’t quite know what we’d discovered and the sheer scale of the park until we got home and did a bit of research.
So tell us more about the park…
In 1993 Splendid China’s $100 million scenery park opened to the public in the heart of Orlando’s tourist district, its perimeter fence framing 76 acres of serene gardens populated with ceramic figurines and scale models, including a hand-laid miniature of the Great Wall of China, The Grand Buddha. Just ten years later the park was forced to close, its downturn in fortunes blamed partly on a lack of custom, but also on the controversy it had become enmeshed in. Splendid China had been plagued by human rights protests and boycotts against many of the displays, some seen as historically inaccurate, others such as the Potala Palace (the spiritual home of the Dalai Lama) as attempts to legitimise China’s communist occupation of formerly independent nations like Tibet. Such views quickly became linked to allegations that the park was in fact owned and operated by the Chinese Government through China Travel Services.
And what happened to the park after it closed?
In the seven years since the gates were permanently locked the abandoned park has suffered at the hands of countless thieves and vandals. Miniature ceramic tiles are now scattered over the ground like discarded cigarette butts, and the pale limbs of trees overlook the ashes and ruins of a fallen empire. But amid the weeds and debris some of the park’s original displays still lie in memorial, eerie tombstones to a once Splendid China.
What was it like in the park?
Walking through the park now is like being allowed momentary access to an empty world. For me it was strangely more serene than I can imagine the tourist attraction ever was before it closed and the weeds were allowed to take hold. Other times my imagination would transport me to the set of a zombie B movie. My fear of Florida wildlife alone was enough to keep curiosity at bay when faced with the caves that once contained the Terra Cotta Warriors (now reclaimed and on sale in a local reclamation yard).