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Gina Anne Russo

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May 20, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright May 20, 2009 Gina Anne Russo. Used by permission.


This month began with the countdown clocks ticking away the time until the start of the 2010 Shanghai Expo hitting the one-year-to-go point, and the weeks that have followed have seen the international press pay a good deal of attention to this upcoming event, which had gotten relatively little media coverage in the Western media. There have been a flurry of op-eds (including this one by China Beat‘s Jeff Wasserstrom), reports on the question of whether the U.S. will have a national pavilion (such as this one by Shanghai Scrap‘s Adam Minter), and feature stories on the city of Shanghai that highlight the build-up to the Expo (such asthis one in the Washington Post). In addition, while Shanghai-based publications had long been trumpeting its importance, the focus on it in major Chinese national press organs also increased last month, with Beijing Review, for example, devoting several articles to it in a recent Shanghai-themed issue (particularly noteworthy is this one by Fudan University historian Li Tiangang).

In light of this, we thought this was a good time to ask Gina Anne Russo, a Fulbright scholar based in the city that is gearing up for the Expo, and someone whose “Gina in Shanghai” blog had caught our attention, to fill our readers in on the publicity campaign under way to whip up enthusiasm for an event that has been called an “Economic Olympics” and also “China’s First World’s Fair” and will run from May 1-October 31 of 2010. We’ll be running her response in two parts, which focus on different aspects of the “Better City, Better Life” slogan that is being used to promote the extravaganza:

Shanghai has had a history of personality cults that permeate the visual landscape of the city. However, today, Mao’s presence, ubiquitous only 40 years ago, has all but faded —though you can still find some reminders that he was once omnipresent, such as the big statue of the Chairman that continues to stand on the East China Normal University and the kitsch items for sale at Shanghai souvenir stalls (though these are aimed largely at foreigners). Even the pervasive symbols of American consumerism Colonel Sanders’ and Ronald McDonald’s are not as common as they once were—though each of them have some statues as well, standing (the Colonel) or sitting (the clown) near the entrances to venues selling buckets of chicken and Big Macs, respectively. Today, the latest personality to overcome Shanghai’s visual landscape is quite different, a symbol of neither Communist Revolution nor capitalist consumer culture. His name is Haibao.