Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Terminou o maior evento realizado na história da humanidade, ao que parece. Os chineses cumpriram as suas metas, como num plano quinquenal. Metas são para ser cumpridas, ao que parece...
Paulo Roberto de Almeida

Shanghai Expo Sets Record With 73 Million Visitors
The New York Times, November 2, 2010

According to tourism experts, state employees and government bureaucrats from virtually every part of the nation were ordered to pile onto buses, trains and planes and head to the Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

SHANGHAI — When city officials here promised the biggest and best World Expo ever, they were not just blowing smoke, as Tao Renran and 60 co-workers at a state-run garment factory found out recently when they were asked to visit this year’s Shanghai World Expo.

That odd request, they said, quickly became a threat. “We were required to come, otherwise, they said, they would cut our wages,” the 46-year-old Ms. Tao said last week, after traveling eight hours by bus to get a one-day glimpse of the Expo.

Ms. Tao and her co-workers had lots of company. According to tourism experts, state employees and government bureaucrats from virtually every part of the nation were ordered to pile onto buses, trains and planes and head to the Expo 2010 in Shanghai, this year’s singular national event, which ended on Sunday.

State-run tourist agencies had travel quotas, and state companies handed out free vouchers good for a one-day visit, all in the hopes of helping pump up the numbers.

“I’m in charge of encouraging 5,000 workers to get on this Expo trip organized by our company,” Chen Hao, 23, deputy chief of the labor union at a state-run steel mill in Shanxi Province in northern China, said last week, after posing for photographs near the China Pavilion. “I got free tickets from the travel agency.”

This government campaign had a simple but noble objective: helping the six-month-long Shanghai Expo reach its target of 70 million visitors, which would shatter Japan’s Expo attendance record of 64 million, set in Osaka in 1970.

Breaking the record was a matter of national pride, and in a country with a history of mass mobilizations and state propaganda, reaching the target was not a question of whether but when.

That day arrived on Oct. 24, when Expo attendance eclipsed the 70 million mark, with a week to go. By the time the Expo closed with a glittery ceremony attended by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, just over 73 million visitors had passed through the Expo turnstiles; it is believed to be one of the biggest events ever staged.

Of course, only 5.8 percent of the visitors — about 4.2 million — were foreigners, according to government data.

Liu Kang, who teaches at Duke University and Jiaotong University in Shanghai, said there was never much doubt Shanghai would meet its target.

“China always has these quotas,” Professor Liu said Monday, as the Expo Park was being dismantled after its 184-day run. “And if they don’t make the numbers, it’s not good for those in power.”

Using state resources to achieve such lofty goals is part of the game.

It is known, for instance, that in 2008 the Beijing Olympic torch relay was masterfully stage-managed for millions of viewers of state-run television here, with crowds bused in to line the relay route and cheer on the torch bearers.

Soon after the torch runner passed by, the cheering crowds were ordered to get back onto their designated buses and head to the next location along the route, where they were expected to cheer for the cameras all over again.

Shanghai officials had even bigger ambitions for the Expo, beginning with the clearing of two square miles for the Expo site by relocating hundreds of factories and moving tens of thousands of families.

When the Expo opened on May 1, a sprawling multibillion-dollar global theme park came to life with hundreds of national pavilions, including Saudi Arabia’s spectacularly expensive IMAX-equipped pavilion and Britain’s design gem, known as the “seed cathedral.”

Long before the Expo got under way, Shanghai authorities predicted that it would largely be attended by a domestic audience. Drawing huge crowds would be easy, organizers said, because only a small percentage of China’s residents get to travel overseas.

But hopes for a record-breaking effort seemed in doubt after visitor numbers dipped to 131,000 a day on May 3. That was far below the 380,000 daily average organizers said was necessary to break the record.

Soon after, Expo officials reminded the media that Shanghai’s 20 million residents would each be given a free one-day Expo pass. The city also started a promotional blitz on the nation’s state-run networks. State travel agencies were pressed to deliver on their Expo quotas. And they did.

“We had to entertain lots of government tourists,” said Ni Ni, a spokeswoman for the Jiangxi International Travel Agency in Jiangxi Province, in western China. “We arranged for a group of 1,000 for our local state-owned company. These kinds of trips are all covered by the government. Each travel agency partnering with the Expo has a quota. As far as I know even the very remote areas like Anhui, Henan and here in Jiangxi Province have all surpassed the quota.”

By early summer, it was clear that Shanghai was on track. Millions of schoolchildren began arriving. And overflow crowds jammed the Expo grounds. Entire villages of farmers, sometimes wearing matching Tang Dynasty-era nylon jackets, camped out.

With long lines at the American, French, German and British pavilions, which were among the most elaborate, many visitors opted for those of Slovakia, the Maldives and North Korea (which featured a fountain, Korean folk songs and an English sign that said “Paradise for People”).

Plastic ferns, artificial flowers and department store mannequins dressed in national garb did not deter visitors from fighting for positions at dozens of smaller pavilions and exhibition halls.

“This place has its own uniqueness,” said Jing Yangfa, a retired Shanghai university professor, while examining carpets at the exhibition hall created for Tajikistan, a country on China’s northwest border. “This is really like a visit to Tajikistan.”

In the sweltering heat of August, and in pouring rain two weeks ago, many queues involved three-hour waits. People lined up for four hours last week to get into Japan’s pavilion, dubbed the “purple silkworm.” And the line snaking around Saudi Arabia’s pavilion was eight hours long.

Some desperate visitors tried to con their way into the special access line of pavilions by pretending to be confined to a wheelchair. And there were reports that elderly women were standing near the entrance gates offering to rent themselves out as Expo escorts for $25 a day — a sure way to pass through the special access line.

Scalpers even began hawking V.I.P. tickets to the Saudi Pavilion for nearly $150.

By then, of course, Shanghai was well on its way to meeting its target. On Oct. 16, a record 1.03 million visitors jammed the Expo park — breaking another Japanese record set in 1970. And two days later, the 70 millionth visitor arrived. Headlines in the state-run news media declared “70 million-plus reasons to celebrate.”

One of the last visitors to the Expo, on the final day, was Zhao Chengui, 55, who works for a state power company in Hubei Province.

He said he was leading a group of homemakers to the China Pavilion.

“Our department arranged for 20 honored wives of pioneering workers in our department to come here,” he said. “Some of them have never been to other cities before. The company pays all the accommodation — everything.”

The day after the conclusion of the so-called Green Expo — as it was called because of its emphasis on sustainable, environmentally friendly cities — something unexpected happened: pollution levels in Shanghai jumped to a near six-month high.

Apparently, the state mandates to close neighboring factories had been lifted, creating a post-Expo haze.

Chen Xiaoduan contributed research.

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