China's Expo 2010 Shanghai
opening May 1, is a world fair in the tradition of Britain's Great
Exhibition of 1851, combining statements of patriotism and global ambition. But why is China producing a world fair, and what messages is it trying to send?
- Largest World Fair In History UC Irvine history professor Jeffrey Wasserstrom,
writing at The Huffington Post, comments on the sheer size of the
event, and tries to explain why China is hosting it so soon after the
2008 Olympic Games in Beijing:
One way to think of the 2008
Games and 2010 Expo is as a combination of events that China hopes will
signal how far it has come in the course of a century or so, and how
far behind it has left its former reputation as the "sick man of Asia."
Its intention is to leave no doubt that it is now a place with not just
one but two cities where great global events can be held.
Theme Park with an Urban Theme "Officials tend to avoid the
term 'theme park' to describe the expo, but that is what it is,"
declares The Economist.
This isn't a display of "manufactured goods (and British industrial
strength)" like the 1851 "progenitor" of all subsequent world fairs.
"Shanghai's expo grandly states its purpose as being to stimulate
discussion of 'urban maladies'. 'Better city, better life' is its
slogan. Sometimes officials call it China's 'economic Olympics' as if
it were a huge trade fair where business deals are struck (it is not)."
Rather, the twin objectives are fun and patriotism, with pavilions for
different countries (and the Chinese pavilion towering above them all).
"The American and British ones are among the biggest draws," The
- Shows Modernization, Promotes Understanding, says Liu Xiaoming,
Chinese Ambassador to the UK, writing in British newspaper The
Telegraph. "The theme of the Expo ... reflects how hard China is
working to upgrade its industrial structure, and shift the economic
pattern from the consumption of energy and resources towards
sustainable and low-carbon development. In doing this, we will be
trying to learn from the best ideas and practices of other
countries--and the Expo offers Britain a major opportunity to present
the best it has to offer." He also says the British pavilion, with
"performances by the Royal Ballet, the London Symphony, and the Royal
Liverpool Philharmonic ... will go a long way towards updating the old
image held by the Chinese of Britain as a cold, foggy country inhabited
by people with overcoats and umbrellas, projecting instead an image of
your country as a magnet for ideas, innovation and investment."
- 'By the Numbers' The Christian Science Monitor's Carol Huang
collects figures on the expo which, laid next to one another, are
clearly intended to show some of the mixed messages and complications
of the event. The height of the Chinese pavilion, she reports, is 207
ft. The height of the "next tallest pavilion" is 69 ft. Here are some
of the other figures she highlights:
Size of Expo grounds: 5.3 square kilometers (2 square miles)
Times the previous Expo, held in Spain in 2008, could fit into the Shanghai Expo grounds: 20 ...
Households bulldozed to make way for the site: 18,000 ...
Estimated cost (in media reports): $55 billion
Estimated cost of Beijing Olympics: $40 billion
Official estimated cost of Expo: $4.2 billion ...
People detained by police in a pre-Expo crackdown: 6,000
People sent for reeducation through labor for Expo-related reasons this year: 10
People detained or placed under house arrest: dozens
- 'The Politics Are Sometimes Comically Obvious,' admits Adam Minter
for The Atlantic, in a story that also provides photos of the
pavilions. "The China pavilion practically hangs over the Hong Kong,
Macau, and Taiwan pavilions; meanwhile, the U.S. and Japanese pavilions
are exiled to the far ends of the Expo site, as far from the China
pavilion as physically possible." Likewise, "nobody knows who among the
Shanghai Expo Bureau decided to make two inaugural members of George W.
Bush's 'Axis of Evil' into neighbors, but the placement--intentional or
otherwise--has been the cause of early buzz among Expo participants."
That said, politics is "only a small part," he says, and "there are
buildings of genuine grace and beauty." Thus far, "the runaway favorite
of the Chinese public and other Expo participants" is the UK pavilion,
which prominently features seeds from the Kew Millenium Seed Bank.
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