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    China Business
     May 4, 2010
Page 1 of 3
Shanghai Expo - a message for all
By John Parker

SHANGHAI - Expo 2010, Shanghai's mother of all World's Fairs, officially opened on May 1 with crowds estimated at more than 200,000; even more came on Sunday for a total weekend attendance of 433,000, according to official sources.

The opening day was blessed by good, though hot, weather, with no "artificial sky clearing" measures required according to Tang Xu of the Shanghai Meteorological Bureau; such artificial methods had been used for the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, according to reports.

The general mood of opening-day fairgoers, the vast majority of them mainland Chinese, was one of positive, sincere interest, with throngs of middle-aged people methodically exploring the attractions, showing a kind of oddly earnest intensity. Younger

 

visitors behaved more like typical international tourists, with countless 20-something couples strolling the grounds, taking photos and lazing on the grass.

Many spectators cited the opportunity to experience other cultures without leaving China as a key reason for coming. A Xinjiang man interviewed by Asia Times Online said he was lucky to get opening-day tickets and thought the event was a "good chance to see the world". A young man from a rural province was enthusiastic about the fantastic architecture and the global cultures on display, in spite of the heat and long queues for popular pavilions. A woman who had traveled with her son from Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, solely for the fair, also mentioned world cultures as an important reason for making the trip.

Among foreign visitors, one German man was very impressed by the event overall, comparing it favorably to Expo 2000 in Hanover, though he complained about "bad modern music" in the Austria pavilion. Several Americans leaving the area of the United States pavilion admitted they had not been inside due to the long lines, but seemed impressed with the Expo otherwise.

The lengthy, elaborate program for the Expo opening began on April 30, with a huge Las Vegas-like extravaganza at the UFO-shaped Expo Cultural Center featuring a reported 2,300 performers, including Hong Kong film star Jackie Chan, concert pianist Lang Lang, and opera singer Andrea Bocelli. VIPs who attended included French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, North Korea's de facto head of state Kim Yong-nam, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak , European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, and other dignitaries from Armenia, Mongolia, the Seychelles, and many other countries. Besides these high-level officials, Kekyi Wangmo and Jangba Tsering, two children orphaned by the earthquake which struck Tibet two weeks ago, were also invited. At 8.30 pm, President Hu Jintao declared the Expo formally open.

After the indoor ceremony, an enormous outdoor display began along the Huangpu River separating the two main areas of the Expo grounds as evening fell; this included 80-meter fountains and a massive fireworks display, with streams of sparks showering off the Nanpu and Lupu Bridges over the Huangpu, and fireworks forming images of smiley faces and Haibao, the Expo mascot. Thousands of colored LED balls floated in the river, with hundreds of boats festooned with the national flags of countries represented at the Expo powering upstream through the brightly lit balls. On the Puxi side of the Expo site, what was claimed to be the world's largest LED screen at 25 meters by 80 meters, spelt out "Welcome to Shanghai, China" in red and gold. An expo song, written by American Quincy Jones and Chinese classical composer Tan Dun, was played, using words in Shanghainese dialect.

The Expo opening came as a welcome uplift during what has been a rough week for China, with the latest of several horrific knife attacks on children leaving dozens of youngsters injured in the Jiangsu province city of Taixing. A day earlier, a man had knifed more than a dozen students at a primary school in the southern city of Leizhou, in Guangdong province. Incredibly, on the same day as the Leizhou attacks, a man named Zheng Minsheng was executed in Fujian province for the murder of eight elementary students on March 23.

Also last Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stripped China of the bronze medal its womens' gymnastics team earned at the Sydney Olympics 10 years ago, after new evidence emerged proving that one of the Chinese gymnasts was aged only 14 at the time of the Games, well below the event's minimum age of 16. The IOC awarded the bronze, 10 years late, to the fourth place team - the US.

A number of minor political crises surfaced in the period immediately before the Expo. Concerns about Islamic extremism led the government to close the borders with Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan (though both countries have pavilions at the Expo). Another ripple involved Feng Zhenghu, probably the most famous dissident from Shanghai, who has criticized local corruption and the practice of forced eviction. Feng famously lived in the immigration area of Tokyo's Narita airport for 92 days, until February, due to Chinese authorities repeatedly refusing him permission to re-enter China. According to the London-based Independent newspaper, in mid-April, Feng pledged to launch a "Shanghai Expo of Unjust Court Cases", presenting problems with the city's legal system. Police responded by confiscating his computers and interrogating him for several hours; Feng claims that he was told he would "disappear" if he spoke out during the Expo.

Another issue involved, indirectly, one of the Expo's most famous attractions, the Little Mermaid statue from Copenhagen harbor, now on display at the Danish pavilion. To replace the statue during its absence, the Danish authorities permitted a video installation by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to be installed in the harbor. Ai, who provided the basic design for Beijing's Olympic stadium, is one of the most famous artists in China. Yet the choice by the Danish government has political implications, for he is one of the most determined and relentless critics of the Chinese Communist Party, most specifically over the lack of freedom of speech, especially artistic freedom, in the country. A few characteristic quotes:
" ... my blog is an extension of my thinking - why should I deform my thinking simply because I live under a government that espouses an ideology which I believe to be totally against humanity? And this so-called communist ideology is totally against humanity. Many generations of people over decades in this nation have been hurt by this: many are dead, many have disappeared and many have been damaged, whether conscious of this reality or not. ... Self-censorship is insulting to the self. Timidity is a hopeless way forward.

... China is facing tremendous problems ... it is not only China that is facing these new kinds of difficulties - the whole world is faced with them. But the difference here is that the old political structure remains fully intact. I believe that the primary concern and main struggle within that structure is to stay in control: and everything done within that structure is related to this mission. This is absolutely ridiculous to me. Even in a democratic structure it is very difficult to maintain power - and the pursuit of maintaining control generates more problems than can be solved."

... Totalitarian society creates a huge space that, as we know, is a wasteland. ... There is no revolution like the communist revolution. You simply burn all the books, kill all of the thinking people and use the poor proletariat to create a very simple benchmark to gauge social change. This has continued for generations - after just two or three generations deprived of continuity in education we inevitably become completely cut off from our own past." [source for all quotes: Simon Kirby, Truth to Power [1]
In the months leading up to the 20th anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen crackdown in 2009, authorities canceled several of Ai's blogs; he responded by posting pictures of himself jumping in the air, completely nude except for a stuffed "Grass Mud Horse" covering his genitals (in China, the "Grass Mud Horse" is a symbol of defiance to the government's censorship of the Internet). [2] It is unclear if the selection of Ai has caused any diplomatic friction between Denmark and China, and Ai may in fact be practically untouchable for the CCP due to his international and family prominence (Chairman Mao Zedong wrote five personal letters to his father, a famous poet).

Another political aspect, this one perhaps reflecting more positively on the government, was Taiwan's presence at the Expo; the island has one of the larger and more impressive pavilions in Zone A (where most Asian pavilions are located), featuring a large LED sphere. Several prominent Taiwan politicians, including Kuomintang (KMT) honorary chairman Lien Chan, former KMT chairman and Taipei mayor Wu Poh-hsiung, and People First Party chairman James Soong, were in Shanghai for the Expo opening. On April 29, PRC President and CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao met with these and other Taiwan dignitaries, saying, "Shanghai's hosting of the World Expo is a pride of all Chinese people, including those across the Taiwan Strait ... I believe the Shanghai World Expo will help boost the mutual understanding of people on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait while enhancing exchanges and cooperation between them."

Local gossip during the opening days mostly concerned some last-minute measures to improve security and (purportedly) the city's image. These included a ban on sales of large knives for the duration of the Expo (perhaps related to the school slaying incidents, which generally involved knives), a ban on the venerable Shanghai tradition of walking the neighborhood in one's pajamas, and a ban on hanging laundry outdoors. Another bit of buzz concerned a last-minute decision to give free Expo tickets to local Shanghai residents; this offer included expatriate residents, but only those with families.

Queues, and more queues
The author visited on opening day with a Chinese translator, and tried to see a somewhat random sample of attractions. Regrettably, this did not include many of the most well-publicized pavilions, but to see more than two or three of these would have been impossible due to the long queues. We saw probably less than 10% of what is on offer at the Expo, but even that may allow a fairly accurate impression of the event's opening day.

Despite fears of long entrance lines, after a 15-minute walk from a metro station, we were admitted almost instantaneously, which suggests that post-trial day measures to improve the speed of entrance procedures have paid off. The security examination was very rapid and the female guard almost embarrassingly eager to please, saying "thank you" (in English) about five separate times. Our top priority was to see the North Korean pavilion, whose contents were the subject of numerous rumors before the opening. 

Continued 1 2


Shanghai Expo: The final countdown
(Apr 20, '10)

Shanghai, the becoming thing
(Jan 6, '10)


1. China breaks the Himalayan barrier

2. My Name is Khan too, say Syrians

3. India's space program takes a hit

4. Trickle of nonsense

5. How Iran and al-Qaeda made a deal

6. India sweats over China's water plans

7. No bling, no buzz in Singapore

8. Iran, Brazil and the 'bomb'

9. Chinese leaders revive Marxist orthodoxy

10. Too big to save

(Apr 30 - May 2, 2010)

 
 



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