I have to start this post off with a whole bunch of disclaimers. First of all, I have nothing but respect for Yang Hengjun, whose work we have translated many times on this site. Moreover, I myself have expressed doubts about the value of the Shanghai Expo and I haven’t visited it myself. Still, I was a bit surprised to see this hit-piece by Yang Hengjun in the Epoch Times.
Here’s the basic idea behind the piece, which is also published on Yang’s blog:
Absent are halls filled with advanced technologies of previous World Fairs. Instead, scalpers, long lines, empty buildings, and videos are waiting for you at the World Expo in Shanghai.
All arguably true, I suppose. But when you actually read the article, it’s pretty petty. The entire thing is based on Yang’s tour (he spent only four hours there) with a single, anonymous Expo worker, who reveals shocking secrets like the fact that ticket scalping is happening and that the authorities don’t want people to die on Expo grounds. He also suggests that some of the exhibits are faked, but gives only one example, and says the Macao pavilion downplays Macao’s status as a gambler’s paradise (can’t imagine why).
And yet the entire state-run media apparatus has been involved in an all-out marketing campaign promoting the Expo, turning it into a gigantic deal about the country’s image. I think the World Expo in China, just as the Olympic Games, have been politicized by authorities, and ordinary Chinese are made to pay for it.
The World Expo is a place where the world meets China. What does the world see about China, and what do Chinese people see about the world at this World Expo? Our guide had told me, “This place is full of deception and lies.”
Here’s where he loses me. I get that the Expo has been made into a political issue and a source of national pride to an extent, but I’m not sure I see where ordinary Chinese are being forced to pay for it. Obviously, it’s been constructed in part with government money, so in that sense Chinese people have paid for parts of it, but again, the national pavilions he is complaining about (with the exception of Macao) were all paid for by foreign countries. Yes, there are long lines and scalped tickets, and some of the exhibits are underwhelming (since each country made their own pavilion, though, I fail to see how that’s the government’s fault). But long lines, scalped tickets, and disappointing rides are an issue at Disney World, too. Is the Epoch Times going to “expose” that?
Mr. Yang is, of course, entitled to his opinion. It’s just a shame that he didn’t spend more time or talk to more than one person, and that the Epoch Times saw fit to run the piece as-is. One gets the impression from it that the Expo is some elaborately crafted Communist ruse, but in actuality, a lot of people — experts, even — are really enjoying it.
Visiting the major national pavilions is, by all accounts, lame. But it’s a shame Yang Hengjun didn’t go deeper than that, as many reviews like the one linked above have suggested that the Expo has all of the things Yang claims it doesn’t — future technology, creative exhibits, and short lines — you just have to do more than scratch the surface.
I am not, frequent readers of this site know, adverse to attacking the Chinese government. But if you’re going to do that, it should be about something real. From what I can tell, lots of people — foreign and Chinese — are genuinely enjoying the Shanghai Expo, and they might just be learning something about other cultures, even if all they’re doing is watching videos. Yang’s article reads a bit too much like Yang Hengjun and the Epoch Times went to Shanghai looking for something to complain about.