2005 photo essays
Week twenty-one (August 14, 2005)
· China takes the flag from Japan
Unfortunately, the planned update about my personal Expo highlights could not be finished in time, so this week I will once again focus on a different topic. Upon visiting the Chinese pavilion last week, I led an interesting conversation with a representant of the 2010 Shanghai Expo Office and also received a few information sources about the exposition, which sparked my interest in what the Chinese have in store.
The Chinese pavilion is one of the largest at the Aichi Expo, using five modules - the same size as Korea, USA, Germany, for example. Its theme is "Nature, City, Harmony - the Art of Life", interpreting the "Chinese people's concept of harmony between nature and city".
The official guide to the pavilion tells us that the exhibition "aims to concentrate on the 5,000 years of Chinese civilization and the evolution of the modern city, displaying the harmonious relationship between ancient tradition and modern development". The pavilion is very spaciously designed, and a visit doesn't necessarily require a lot of time.
Even though the Chinese pavilion has been titled the "Worst Use of Space" by Japanzine Online Expo Mid-term report, I find the colors and textures inside the pavilion quite enjoyable. Also, the money that wasn't used on expensive movies or other presentations was obviously spent in creating beautiful information brochures - no, it's actually proper books. I received two of them for free, one about the Chinese pavilion and China in general, the other one titled "A Day of the Chinese", a photo collection from different towns and provinces, spanning one typical day from morning until nighttime - amazingly beautiful shots, I'm telling you.
The next official World Exposition is the 2008 Zaragoza Expo, but the Aichi Prefecture Government will hand over the Bureau of Internation Expositions (BIE) flag to the Shanghai Municipal Government officially on 25th September 2005, the closing day of the Shanghai week of the Chinese pavilion and the Aichi Expo.
Update 2005-10-05: Photos from the Shanghai Week:
But China takes over the flag not just in this ceremony, but also, metaphorically speaking, regarding international influence and power. The Chinese economy has been expanding brakes off in the last few years, and it is often said that China is now seeing a boom time just like Japan had in the 1960s to 80s. Japan became the world's second largest economy during this times and has been until now (if you count individual countries and leave out the EU). However, since the bursting of the "bubble economy" at the end of the 1980s, Japan's economy has been at a standstill, whereas China saw an incredible surge in investment and economic growth. Therefore, it's safe to say that China is now in the same position as Japan a few decades ago.
This is where the Expo comes into play: whereas Japan held its first World Exposition in 1970 right during its growth period, China will do so in 2010 with the Shanghai Expo.
· Shanghai 2010: the true Millenium Expo
The 2010 Shanghai World Exhibition is scheduled to last for 183 days from May 1, 2010 to October 31, 2010. It is planned to become the largest World Exposition ever with over 200 official participants and a target figure of 70 million visitors. With the theme "Better City, Better Life", ("city of a better life"), it will be the first Expo to focus on the topic of urban living. Sub-themes include "Urban Cultural Diversity", Remodeling of Urban Communities" and "Interaction between Urban and Rural Areas".
The background to the city topic can be best summarized as the official brochure does: "As cities in the West experience the maladies of post-industrial society, the developing countries are facing unprecedented challanges brought about by quick urbanization."
The Chinese organizers openly admit that they use the Osaka Expo, the most successful in terms of visitors, as a benchmark. That means that the Expo organisation committee will set everything in motion to surpass the Osaka Expo and hold the biggest World Exposition ever. Therefore, they are also surveying the Aichi Expo to decide on strong and weak points and about the points that one would like to be inspired by. For example, they set up an essay forum for officials who visited the Aichi Expo to spur fruitful discussion about the organization of the 2010 Expo.
The official logo is shaped like the Chinese character "World", made up of three people (You, He and I = all people) embracing each other and is supposed to express the philosophy of the Expo "Understanding, Communication, Gathering and Coorperation" and the "people-oriented pursuit of Shanghai World Expo". The new official logo (you can see the old blob-like logo in a few images, too) was unveiled with much fanfare in 2004.
· The Expo site
The Expo site is located close to the city center of Shanghai along the Huangpu river. To accomodate for the theme of "Better City, Better Life, planners attempt to construct an independant urban Expo while integrating it into the larger context of the Shanghai metropolis. Numerous applications for the site design were submitted from all over the world, also by a German company incidently called Albert Speer und Partner.
The current site planning is based on the architectural proposition by the French "Architecture Studio" which includes an eyecatching 500m "floral bridge" to become an everlasting addition to the Shanghai cityscape. Also, part of the site will become a new part of Shanghai after the end of the Expo with the northern and waterfront areas developed into open green spaces and part of the pavilions turned into permanent exhibitions and cross-cultural communication centers.
The selected site along the Huangpu river is an old industrial and residential area which is generally described as "shabby" and "run-down". Therefore, in connection with the official theme of "City of a Better Life", the decision to erect the Expo site there is generally touted as a chance to "raise the quality in the transformation of the old city district and promote the improvement of biological environment and the forming of a public riverside, thereby bringing prosperity to the peripheral areas". The "regeneration of the river waterfront as a lasting benefit" for the city is stressed.
However, these measures include the clearing of the whole residential area, therefore requiring the relocation and resettlement of a huge number of residents (the numbers vary greatly - some sources talk of 6000 family households which rose to 17.000 a few years later, others mention from 25.000 residents to nearly 800.000 residents). Officially, residents are quoted that they are "all very happy to move out of this relatively derelict area," as long as "the government is going to pay for new accommodation".
Other voices (especially outside of China) are more critical about razing a whole historically grown residential district for the construction. However, in Asia, there have been numerous examples of lack of caring about about the preservation of old buildings and city districts, as could be seen with the demolishing of the Walled City of Kowloon for the construction of the new Hong Kong airport in 1993.
· Great expectations
I guess we can expect much of the Shanghai Expo in many respects. It will certainly be an event of a much bigger magnitude as the current Expo. You shouldn't underestimate the factor of national pride here - surpassing the 2005 Expo and even the most successful Expo ever, the 1970 Expo, will certainly be the utmost goal of many people involved with the set-up of the Shanghai Expo. If this achieved, the satisfaction and glee of having overtaken the old enemy of Japan will probably be strong among the Chinese.
The Chinese government is pulling all levers to make this happen. It has assured a favorable taxation package for participants and also a 100 million dollar support package to enable developing countries participate at the Expo - to my knowledge, an unprecedented move. The host city of Shanghai will undergo a multi-billion dollar facelift to provide a site to wow visitors from China and abroad.
We will certainly see many demonstrations of China's new economic and technological heavyweight. For example, Shanghai plans to extend its high-speed magnetic levitation line (Maglev), adding eight kilometres to the current 30km link between Pudong International Airport and the city's eastern edge. The terminal station will be in the center of the Expo site, connecting the airport and city center with the site. The Transrapid train running on this line is somewhat different from the Linimo - trains reach a top speed of 430km per hour during the eight-minute trip (compare this to the average speed of around 40 km/h of the Linimo...)
Also, in contrast to Japan, the international orientation of Shanghai and China in general is especially stressed. Even though it is still almost five years until the opening of the exposition, the organization bureau already has an excellent official web site with heaps of information, photographs and news updates. This whole web site and all updates are simultanously published in English (as can be seen with the update about the four millionth visitor to the Chinese pavilion in English and Chinese) - something you could only dream of in the case of the official web site of the Aichi Expo, whose other language translations lag so much behind in terms of information content and usability (more on that soon).
· My opinion on the 2010 Expo
I must say that I find it overkill to hold two major events (the 2008 Olympics Beijing and the 2010 Expo Shanghai) in the same country, but then, Spain hosted the Barcelona Olympics and the Sevilla Expo in the same year (1992), and China is on a steep rise and will use this stage to present itself to the world in the best possible way. I suppose a lot of national pride and striving is connected to these events, the very same way as was the case with Japan in the sixties, hosting the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo and the 1970 Expo in Osaka.
To be honest, up until know, I thought I had already made up my mind about not participating with the 2010 Expo under any circumstances. After working here at the Aichi Expo for a while, I would say: "The same again, only this time with Chinese visitors? No thank you", but now, I must say that I can't stand by that opinion so firmly anymore. I probably wouldn't do the same job again, but I guess there's no way around taking part in the 2010 event in some form. Let's see what the future brings, it's still over four and a half years to go...
· Next week: "Nature's Wisdom" - a folly?