It’s impossible to escape the World Expo here in China. Billboards everywhere remind you it’s happening this summer. Its scary mascot, Haibao, pops up suddenly when you least expect it. New government regulations remind locals to behave themselves. There is a swell of national pride that makes any foreigner scratch his head in wonder of what exactly the hullabaloo is all about.
Well, the hullabaloo is about China. It’s the Beijing Olympics 2.0. It’s for the Communist government to show its people how great China is and the wonderful things the Party does for them. How can a World Expo be just about one country? Doesn’t its name sort of imply that it’s worldly? Aside from a Chinese truism that says everything is about China, there are several hints that outsiders’ perception of China is secondary to Chinese perception of China.
1) Officials estimate the Expo will attract 70 million visitors, of which more than 5 percent will be foreigners. FIVE WHOLE PERCENT.
2) No one really cares or knows about World Expos.
3) This billboard in New York’s Times Square looks like an afterthought.
What I mean is:
The government has decided the World Expo is a Big Deal, because hey, it’s a World Event that involves people from all over the world. That such a huge event is taking place in China means China must be a Big Deal, too. Such Big World Events provides the perfect opportunity to show off how great China is, which of course, the government wants the world to know, but more importantly, wants its people to know.
The right of the Chinese government to exist and govern is premised on that it makes people’s lives better. It will seize every opportunity to remind its people that their lives are better.
Moreover, the Chinese government seems to have completely reorganized people’s priorities. Unable to compete and lead in arenas that matter to other people in the world, it has invented a different category of Things to Be Proud Of, the source of Chinese nationalism. This is seen in the exact sizes of its lakes and museums, of the number of Guinness Records it holds and its spectacular and ostentatious displays of its culture and history (of which it has 5,000 years’ worth). Not that China doesn’t have anything to be proud of, or that it can’t be proud of those things, but it certainly does highlight the differences in East-West ideologies.
UPDATE (March 22): I’m pretty sure the ratio of Haibaos to Shanghai residents is something like 5:1. Check out the photo gallery for random Haibaos (well, at least in one instance, anyway).