Chinese fantasy

With the opening of the Shanghai World Expo on May 1, China has sought to create another symbol of its rising power and project its premier city as the world’s metropolis of the future. There is nothing understated about the expo and in typical Chinese idiom, everything about it is done to mega scale and in the superlative. At a cost of $45 billion, more than what China spent on the 2004 Olympics, it is called China’s economic Olympics.
Billions more are spent on improving the city’s infrastructure. The expo will be on for six
months and is expected to attract 70 million visitors, ie one out of every 100 people on earth, and will easily surpass any other expo held anywhere in the past.

The idea is to showcase China as the world’s factory and impress the globe with the strides it has taken. The achievement does not need iteration but China wants to say it with pomp and spectacle. There are doubts about the economic returns from the expo as the investment may not be recouped during its duration. It is not a trade fair and so there won’t be any business deals. But China does not seem to mind, as the aim is more brand-building than business. It is an attempt to create a fantasy of shapes and colour as a metaphor for the new China. China has recently been keen on projecting its soft power, in support of the increasing economic and political power it is wielding in the world. The Shanghai extravaganza is also meant to convey the message of power and aspiration with aplomb. There is criticism that thousands of people were displaced from the land where the huge pavilions have come up and from the nearby area where another big project, a Disneyland, is taking shape. But China has lived with the criticism for long.

The grand project also serves a domestic purpose. It panders to rising Chinese nationalism and pride and appeals to the people as another symbol of excellence admired by the world. Chinese authorities are keen to fuel the patriotic sentiment among the people to keep in check the various conflicts arising from development. There may also be subtle a political dimension. The expo may signify the return of the assertive and nationalist Shanghai faction in the communist party to the centrestage. Whatever be the meanings, the expo is made to stun and vow the world.

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