The cruise business in China is still small. In 2014 about 700,000 Chinese travelers cruised, compared with 10 million Americans and more than 6 million Europeans. But the numbers are climbing rapidly—an increase of 79 percent from 2012 to 2014—and the ceiling isn’t yet visible. In the U.S. and Australia, about 3.5 percent of the population cruises each year; the proportion in China is less than one-sixtieth of that. Some forecasters estimate that China will be the No. 2 market by 2017—and that it could eventually replace the U.S. as the largest in the world. ... Local governments have already built cruise terminals in Sanya, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Xiamen, with more on the way in at least four other coastal cities. Cruise companies are bringing ships to China as fast as the ports can squeeze them in. But the hardware is the easy part. The software—the onboard experience of the Chinese customer—is still in beta. Localization itself is nothing new; brands from KFC to Oreo as well as Hollywood studios have tailored their products to the Chinese market, with varying levels of success. For cruise companies, it’s more complicated than hiring a Chinese celebrity spokesperson or throwing in a green tea flavor. They must rethink the entire cruise experience, from food to décor to how a rapidly capitalizing society thinks about class and luxury.
For centuries, the monks of the Shaolin Temple mostly prayed and practiced martial arts, while living off the land and the donations of worshippers. Under Yongxin, their activities expanded to include food and medicine sales, construction, entertainment, and consulting. In 2006 the temple teamed with a Shenzhen media company to produce Kungfu Star, an American Idol-style TV competition. Shaolin announced last year that it would begin developing mobile apps, including instructional kung fu software. The Shaolin Village project in Australia was only the next logical step in the abbot’s expansionist theo-corporate empire. “If China can import Disney resorts,” he said in March, “why can’t other countries import the Shaolin Monastery?” ... One evening I was sitting in a nearby guesthouse, reading a copy of Yongxin’s memoir, when an old man with a long white beard shuffled over. His son accompanied him and said his father had studied at the temple long ago. The old man stepped to the center of the room and performed an elegant kung fu routine, striking and kicking invisible enemies. Here it was, I thought: living heritage, unsullied by crass commercialism. When the man finished, I applauded and went to shake his hand. “Now give me some money,” he said.