(Why) The 2010 Shanghai Expo mattered

From Adam Minter at Shanghai Scrap: “Expo 2010 was visited by more than 70 million people, many millions of whom waited in long ticket lines, outside of the gates, in the heat of July and August … for the chance to wait in long lines within the Expo grounds. The obvious question is: what was the appeal? The less obvious question is: why didn’t the foreign media probe this question? More precisely, rather than ignore the phenomenon, why didn’t anyone pause to ask what was it about contemporary China that drove so many people to do something that most foreigners – especially foreign reporters who are lock-step disdainful of crowds and mass events enjoyed by Chinese – had no interest in doing?” See End of Expo: Why Expo 2010 Mattered

2 thoughts on “(Why) The 2010 Shanghai Expo mattered”

  1. You make a good point about this possibly being the only opportunity for some Chinese to learn about cultures beyond their own. While this might be true, if this is the only exposure they have to those other cultures, it was a sad representation of them at the Expo.

    My family only attended for 3 days, but when we went, the lines were fairly short and fast moving. We did choose not to visit the Russia pavilion because the line was so long and slow. We knew we could visit about 4 others in the time it would take to get in to the Russia pavilion. On a separate, school trip my daughter went to this pavilion and said it was her favorite, but she couldn’t tell me what it had to do with Russian culture.

    We attended more pavilions than I can remember without the help of photographs. Spain was our hands-down favorite, with the live flamenco dancer and the moving aerial view of the country projected onto the floor (I think those were in the same pavilion). For the most part though, they all washed together in a pile of “this is our biggest export”, “here’s what we’re doing to improve our economy”, and “try our wine, or other alcoholic beverages and someday you can come to our country to enjoy it there”. If I knew nothing else about Argentina, I would think that the only thing they do is drink; their pavilion was mostly just a huge bar. If I knew nothing about France, I’d think that they had a corner on bubble machines and gardens and that they were primarily controlled by Aventis. Their photo walls were cool though.

    My overall feeling of the Expo was that the pavilion creators just didn’t give a darn; that their represented governments didn’t care a whit how they were portrayed. Sure there were a handful of exceptions, like the U.K, Spain, and France, but so many of the others were like dried-up leaves compared to the dynamic countries they were supposed to represent.

    This being the case, I’m not too certain that the Expo really broadened anyone’s horizon beyond the “Look! It’s a foreigner! We need to get a picture!” aspect of it all. I suppose that’s something, but really it’s not much in the end. I very much hope you’re right though. I hope that in the long run, it helps the people of China be more willing to open up and have cultural interchanges with other countries, beyond simply exporting computer parts and bobble-head dolls.

  2. I agree with Heather although I never visited the Shanghai Expo and I only live down the road in Hangzhou. A few months before it opened I really wanted to go but the excess hype made me lose interest. Also, a friend of mine worked in one of the more exotic pavilions told me that all the souvineers were not made in the country being displayed but in China and they were tailored to meet the demands of the Chinese market. Further, CCTV had people from each pavillion doing dances saying they represented the culture of the country concerned. This made them look like foreign versions of China’s own minority groups and cast them as happy idiots that could just sing, dance, wear weired clothes and make and sell some odd alchololic drink. I’m glad I never went but I’m happy some people from rural China enjoyed it. However, their view of the outside world must now be more weired than it was before. Instead of them thinking we live in a cross-cultural harmonious world they now must think foreigners and where they come from are more stranger than they used to think.

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