Hollywood giant Disney will launch a probe into unlicensed performers dressing as its most famous characters to extort cash from tourists outside the Bird's Nest stadium.
A boy poses with an unlicensed performer dressed like Mickey Mouse beside the Bird's Nest stadium on Wednesday. Disney is investigating. [China Dail]
China Daily reporters contacted the company on Wednesday after witnessing two people in Mickey and Minnie Mouse costumes posing with visitors and then demanding 10 yuan.
"This is a very big deal. We'll send people to Beijing immediately to see what's going on," said Huang Chen at Disney's Shanghai headquarters. Staff based in its capital office said they had no knowledge of the performers.
As many as eight people are working in the area, with three roaming the square between the National Stadium and the Water Cube dressed as Fu Wa, the 2008 Olympics mascots. Some claim to be disabled to pressure tourists into paying up.
"I was furious. I thought he worked for the Olympic Park and that the photos were free," said Zhang Ping, a daytripper from the suburbs, who was conned by a Fu Wa. "He waited until after we took the pictures to ask for money."
Nearby, four students posed with "Mickey". As they attempted to leave, a woman who gave her name as Yan rushed up to them to say: "Mickey is my friend. She has nothing to do with those Fu Wa. It's her own act and she just wants to make some money."
Yan, who works at a licensed photo booth on the Olympic Park, said there are eight regular performers, some deaf mutes, who arrived from Hebei province and further northeast. However, when the students walked away without handing over cash, Yan and "Mickey" could clearly be heard talking before they set off in chase of the group."What a fraud. She used gestures that suggested she couldn't speak and later ran after me demanding money," said Wang Chen, one of the four, who studies in Hebei. "I paid her 10 yuan just to get rid of her."
A security guard on patrol close to the scene said it was "none of his business" when METRO reported the swindle. He directed reporters to a two-story management office, where reception staff refused to comment. Calls to the park's general enquiries hotline went unanswered on Wednesday.
Urban management officers, better known as chengguan, are common sights on the square, although they admitted it is hard to clamp down on the fakers.
"We see them all the time, but unless we actually witness them asking or taking money from a tourist, all we can do is order them to leave the park," said an officer who did not want to be identified. "They always come back."
Word of the con artists has already spread to the capital's travel agencies. Zhou Ting, who works at a tourist office next to the Bird's Nest, said guides are told to warn visitors about the cartoon characters to prevent them from being targeted.
"We all know they have nothing to do with the Olympic Park management or Disney," she added.