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    Greater China
     Nov 2, 2010

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Shanghai revels in its coming-out party
By John Parker

SHANGHAI - On midnight, October 31, Expo 2010 Shanghai China, the first event of its type to be held in China and the largest in history in terms of attendance, site area, and cost, drew to a close after six months and around 73 million visitors.

Staff had cheered at the entrance on October 24 as the Expo officially met its 70 million visitor goal, albeit with a week to go. A surge triggered by cooler autumn weather was a key factor in meeting the target after many visitors were put off from visits during Shanghai's oppressive summer, which was even hotter than usual.

Indeed, Shanghai Expo was "the most magnificent event in World Expo history", according to Jean-Pierre Lafon, president of the


International Exhibitions Bureau (BIE), the governing body for World Expos, who added that the event had witnessed unprecedented visitor volume (breaking the previous attendance record of 64 million, set by the 1970 Osaka World Expo in Japan), and raised the profile of World Expos generally.

The event was also the most expensive Expo in history, which inspired a certain amount of grudging in China, especially from other regions of China jealous of the government spending to help Shanghai prepare for the event.

Officials could reasonably argue, however, that the Expo spending was mostly an investment in Shanghai's future. The site chosen for the Expo was a rundown waterfront area with shipyards and decaying warehouses, and probably would have been redeveloped at some stage anyway. The streets and metro lines built for the event will continue to be used for decades, as will the airport and rail terminals built in advance of the fair.

In addition, government tourism officials said that as of late October, the event had generated more than 80 billion yuan (US$12 billion) in tourism revenues for Shanghai and nearby Yangtze delta cities, and a 20% year-on-year increase in the aviation, foreign trade, wholesale, retail, accommodation, and catering sectors in the region.

With its kaleidoscopic sampling of international cultures, the Expo clearly tapped into an unmet demand for international travel among mainland Chinese. "The Expo is like a huge museum of the different cultures of the world," observed retired teacher Mei Haixing, who visited 28 times. For a single person to visit so many times might appear excessive at first glance, but it should be kept in mind that the enormous queues at popular pavilions meant that only one or two of these could be seen in a single visit. Even 10 visits, with little or no overlap between them, would still have left many pavilions unseen.

Attendance during the last week was artificially limited to around 500,000 as only more expensive peak-day tickets were available. Attendance in the previous week topped 700,000 daily. Also, many visitors in the last few weeks were attracted by the bargains available as pavilions cleared their inventory of handicrafts and souvenirs in anticipation of the Expo's end.

The Expo's last official day, October 31, was marked by the Expo 2010 Shanghai China Summit Forum, attended by dignitaries including Premier Wen Jiabao and United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon. Wen characterized the Expo as "an encyclopedia lying open on the land and a magnificent painting showcasing the integration and harmony of diverse cultures".

In a gesture that could be interpreted as an attempt to lower the temperature of China-Japan relations, he also praised one of the event's most assiduous visitors, Japan's Yamada Tomiyo, known as "Expo Granny", who began preparing for the event four years ago and bought 183 tickets so she could attend every single day.

In his speech, the premier curtailed his recent tendency to make eyebrow-raising statements in support of domestic political reform. However, he did make a few oblique hints in that direction, saying, for example, "Only when the fruits of human civilization are elevated onto the spiritual and philosophical level will they become the common assets of the entire humanity and be passed down from generation to generation"; "the Expo tells us that progress of a society is not just about the number of skyscrapers, but also meeting the practical and cultural needs of each individual"; and "only an open and inclusive country can become an advanced one and only by standing on the shoulders [of] giants can one look farther." As for Ban, he called the Expo "remarkable, even historic", and spoke in support of sustainable development.

The final day also featured a low-key closing ceremony attended by Wen, Vice Premier Wang Qishan, Shanghai mayor Han Zheng, and other Chinese officials, along with foreign dignitaries including Lafon; Letizia Moratti, mayor of Milan, Italy; and Guiseppe Sala, chief executive officer of the next Expo in Milan, scheduled for 2015. Among other comments, Wang said, "I am convinced that the vision of 'Better City, Better Life' will become reality", and Lafon called the Expo an "astounding success".

The good, the bad and the weird
The big winners at the Expo were Spain, Germany, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom, all wildly popular with visitors.

Spain delivered a master class in how to promote a country to Chinese tourists, who are likely to account for a huge slice of the international tourism market worldwide for the next century. The Spanish pavilion was a brilliantly conceived audiovisual experience that managed to tell visitors everything important about Spain, past and present, without forcing them to read a single explanatory placard; this accomplishment was all the more remarkable for a country that had been little-known to the average mainland Chinese. But that wasn't all: in addition to the national pavilion, three Spanish cities, Bilbao, Barcelona and Madrid, built city pavilions.

Spain's pavilions were so well done - especially in comparison to the environmentalist self-flagellation that characterized many other European pavilions - that a visitor might reasonably conclude that the torch of leadership in Western civilization had been passed to Spain for the first time in several centuries.

Another big winner was Taiwan; the Taiwan national pavilion, with its giant LED ball, was so popular it was practically impossible to get in. The Taipei City pavilion attracted long lines, even at night; evidence of a deep fascination with the forbidden fruit of Taiwan among mainland Chinese.

There were really too many highlights to list them all, but two deserving to be singled out are Latvia and, surprisingly, Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan pavilion was basically a handicraft store, but a very interesting and popular one. The wide range and quality of art items on offer showed that there was at least one good point to being a nation composed of ethnic groups, albeit feuding.

Latvia's excellent pavilion featured an "aerodium" where selected visitors could "fly" in a vertical wind tunnel, held up by air pressure from a large turbine. When formal prizes were awarded at the end of the event, Germany won first prize in the "best development" category for large pavilions; Russia was second, and France third. In the "best design" category, the UK was first with its haze-like "seed pavilion", and South Korea second.

The Expo became a victim of its own success to some extent, as the queues at popular pavilions approached ridiculous lengths. At the Saudi Arabian pavilion, for example, where the main event was an IMAX film, queues frequently exceeded six hours. Expo officials responded to the crush by surrounding popular pavilions with a web of fencing to contain the lines; these fences became progressively longer and more elaborate, as roofs, benches, electric fans, and even water-misting systems were gradually added. The queues meant that it simply wasn't possible to see more than one or two popular pavilions in a day; the common pattern was to see one popular pavilion, then spend the rest of the day at less popular ones with shorter queues.

Every visitor, without exception, came away with queue stories. For example, the writer was able to see the Spanish and US pavilions only because of a policy that allowed senior citizens and the handicapped to enter without queuing; the writer's mother, visiting Shanghai, provided the chance to access two of the most popular pavilions at the Expo. There were rumors that this policy was abused by attendees who went so far as to wear fake plaster casts to avoid queuing. 

Continued 1 2  

Shanghai Expo: The final countdown
(Apr 30, '10)

Shanghai Expo - a message for all
(May 4, '10)

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(Oct 29-31, 2010)


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