Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Taking Baudrillard to the Fair: Exhibiting China in the World at the Shanghai Expo

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Taking Baudrillard to the Fair: Exhibiting China in the World at the Shanghai Expo

Article excerpt

Abstract

Scholars have recently paid increasing attention to China's "mega events" as a form of image management striving to influence future world order. In this article, the author examines China's recent world fair, Expo 2010 Shanghai China, and argues that we need to move beyond the reading of mega events as simple representation and ideology and read it also as simulation and simulacra. Reading the Chinese world fair as a simulacrum of world order can provide different ways of relating "the West" to its "other country" China. The author examines this relation through asking what it means to be the fair: Where is the world fair? When is the world fair? Who is the world fair? Reading the world/fair as simulacrum disrupts the fair's notions of inside and outside, now and then, subject and object to the point where these terms are no longer workable.

Keywords

World Fairs, Expo 2010, China, simulacra

Introduction

China's rise in the global economy and politics is commonly considered to pose one of the greatest challenges to the current world order and to modernity as we know it. This way of understanding China's role in international politics has its roots in an imagination of Chinese experience as radically different to that of Western modernity--as the "other country." (1) In recent years, a key Chinese strategy for negotiating both its claims to particularism and to being a modern great power has been through the public diplomacy of "mega events," including the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2009 anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC), and Expo 2010 Shanghai China. The success of Chinese mega events in altering international opinion is debatable. (2) As symbols of a changing Chinese identity and outlook, they have nonetheless come to be understood as an important aspect of Chinese "image management." (3) In this article, I argue that we need to take the next step and understand China's mega events not only on the level of representation and ideology but also on the level of simulation and simulacra. (4) I moreover argue that a consequence of such a reading is that we need to stop imagining China as the "other country."

Mega event genres came about in Western industrializing capitalist countries engaged in nation building and imperial consolidation of the late nineteenth century. (5) Maurice Roche has connected mega events as phenomenon to "a temporal world view framed in terms of 'progress,' the assumed responsibility to build a diffuse western 'civilization,' and the assumed capacity to do so by actively 'making history.'" (6) He has further suggested "megaevents are potentially memorable because they are a special kind of time-structuring institution in modernity." (7) Like Roche, I examine how time and modernity are negotiated by a mega event, but rather than looking for this time-shaping capacity in the scale and cyclical occurrence of events I examine one particular event--China's own world fair, Expo 2010 Shanghai China, or "Expo 2010."

Expo 2010 took place from May 1 to October 31, 2010, in the tradition of scientific and industrial world fairs following on from the Great Exhibition of Industries of All Nations that was held in London in 1851. World fairs have been described as instrumental in creating the distinction between reality and representation, a dualism that has become central to the way we capture the modern world. (8) Expo 2010 has been read in China to symbolize the greatness and international significance of China--indeed, it was the largest, most expensive, and most visited of its kind. (9) The 73 million visitors who passed through the Expo in Shanghai during the six months it was officially open as world fair would be even greater if one counted the subsequent visitors attracted to the site's permanent monuments (the Chinese national pavilion for example has been turned into a permanent museum) and to the online version of Expo 2010, where one's avatar can stroll through a virtual 3D replica of the site, visit pavilions, and partake in numerous exhibitions as well as interact with other visitors. …

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