The Calm before the Expo

The Shanghai 2010 World Expo officially kicks off tomorrow. It would be an understatement to say that “Shanghai has been hyping the Expo a lot.” I’ve been taking pictures of various Haibao sightings and a few other Expo-related scenes over the past few months, but it’s finally all coming to a head.

For all the hype that’s been building up, though, there’s been at least as much cause for concern. I’m getting reports from multiple sources that the Expo is disorganized, that it’s a mess, that it’s chaotic, that it will take a miracle for it to not be a disaster. These latest Chinglish pictures don’t exactly inspire confidence that it will be a “world-class event.” Then again, the Chinese do have a way of pulling things off at the last minute. I don’t want the Expo to be an epic fail, but it could certainly happen.

Either way, it’s going to be interesting.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I think it will be interesting to see how it turns out in comparison to the Beijing Olympics. I think a lot of us were expecting disaster as well, but Beijing ’08 was organized, efficient, well-planned, and not to mention criminally cheap (tickets as low as 30 RMB, beers for 5 RMB at all events, etc.) That being said, I know that the central government put a lot of time, money, and effort behind the Olympics. Based on my own understanding (and please correct me if I am completely wrong), the Expo seems to be more the brainchild of the Shanghai city government rather than the big wigs of Zhong Nan Hai. My own little conspiracy theory is that Shanghai Expo is a way for Shanghai to get a little face after not getting the Olympics, despite in all likelihood being a more fitting location than Beijing. That being said, and knowing how China operates, there was no way they were not going to be in the capital…but still.

  2. I don’t really see how it can be an epic fail. It is a long term event and the place is massive. Even if the first 2 weeks some areas are not completely finished, it will hardly an “epic fail”.

    If there is going to be such a fail, IMO it could only come from either:

    1- A safety disaster/attack, but it is unlikely given the number of security measures and the emphasis on this aspect by the authorities.

    2- Not enough public. I thing this is also unlikely given the number of tickets already sold and the massive population concentrated around Shanghai.

    When you say an epic fail, what kind of scenario are you thinking of?

    • Actually, I think there are quite a few ways it could be an epic fail (none of which would likely persist long beyond the opening week, but that’s when attention is the greatest):

      • Inadequate power supply for all the pavilions, resulting in total or partial power outages
      • Poor internet connections for internet-dependent pavilions and demonstrations
      • Inadequate water and food supplies
      • Inadequate restroom facilities
      • Inadequate policing, combined with opportunistic Expo thieves (like Chinese New Year)
      • Conflicts between foreigners and Chinese, aggravated by inadequate policing and translation services
      • Conflicts between (drunken) foreigners
      • Inadequate translation/interpretation services

      These issues all come down to organization, which is what is apparently in short supply. If multiple factors from the list above become issues, they could easily mar the first week of the Expo and earn it the title “epic fail.”

      • Hi John

        No need to worry about the possible causes for an epic fail you mentioned above. Chinese people (and 老外) have already grown accustomed to them. Nothing new!

      • Agree with John, the possibility of an epic failure is very possible. Even if the cause wasn’t blindingly obvious (terrorist attach vs all the possibilities John lists) it would be evidenced by declining attendance and a gradual loss of interests or even undercurrent of hostility toward the event by August/September.

  3. Can you… explain what this is for? The Expo I mean. Each country has their own pavilion, and they show off the latest and greatest XYZ from their country? The excitement for this thing is pretty insane. I guess many Chinese who can’t leave the country are in Heaven when they can just bounce from building to building checking out each style/culture….

    The marketing for this has been not about ‘lets see other countries’ as much as, “lets make Shanghai a world class city, lets be on our best behavior” so… no Jaywalking, no screeching Shanghainese on the subway, stop horking, spitting, blowing your nose, defacating on the street… That I would Cheer for and line up for 4 hrs to see.

  4. Happy Birthday, John!!!

  5. Kaiwen Says: May 1, 2010 at 8:56 am

    I propose that any ‘epic fail’ be punningly referred to as the ‘Shanghai World’s Fail 2010’.

  6. Speaking of China and Chinglish:

  7. only 5% of the expected 70 million visitors will be non-Chinese, i think it’s fair to say that the Shanghai Expo is an event mainly serving the chinese visitors

    most of them won’t be able to see so many in a short time, it’s really a great place for the tens of millions of chinese to enhance their understandings of foreign cultures and reduce some of their prejudice towards things foreign

    personally i don’t think the event would become an “epic fail” as long as the above purpose can be accomplished

    the “Chinese Characteristics” element doesn’t matter that much compared with the long lasting effects this event will bring to the visitors

    what do you think?

Leave a Reply