Study in Contrasts: US and France Regard the Shanghai Expo

I spent part of this weekend watching American diplomats on C-SPAN describing how great everything is going at the American pavilion at the Shanghai Expo.   Hillary Clinton, having tactfully boxed President Karzai into a corner in his recent visit to Washington, is finally focusing again on East Asia.

Conducting foreign wars with the help of corrupt allies, it seems, has a way of usurping one’s attention.  Even President Obama’s “town hall meeting” in Buffalo seemed a little listless after his razor-sharp focus on the Karzai visit.

And so, now that the fireworks have all died down in Shanghai, American politicians at a rank higher than Ambassador can finally make their way to Shanghai, where their underlings are already crowing about all the commercial contracts that may flow from the American presence there, and bragging about how long Chinese people are willing to stand in line to dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” at the U.S. Expo.

But America is tardy to the party.  Press coverage has been minimal.  Even at a China-thirsty campus like mine, awareness of the Shanghai Expo is abysmal.  Among the broad masses of the American people, there is almost certainly more knowledge of the fictional “Stark Expo” in Flushing (depicted in the film Iron Man 2) than the actual World Expo going on in Shanghai.   But then again, paying attention to Shanghai — like reading Martin Jacques’ Wednesday editorial — might cause a denial reflex, whereas Iron Man reminds Americans that their dads kicked ass in the 1960s and we’ve got legacy nukes to buck up our pride.

On the other hand, French media have been scrupulously following the Shanghai Expo, partially due to the visit of First Couple Nicholas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni to Beijing and Shanghai to attend the Expo’s opening.  I’ve linked several of these stories in my monumental Twitter feed, and my April 24 post covers a fair bit of ground on the Sino-French front.  Now, as for the Expo: there’s more on the way translation-wise, but to get a sense of the tone, let me just offer a short translation from Paris Match.  The magazine — basically the equivalent of People magazine in the States — has  Carla Bruni sashaying on the cover, with a big caption stating “Carla: First Lady of Shanghai: Surprise Star Guest of the World Expo, She Seduces the Chinese.”

I read a bit of the stuff aloud on YouTube, and plan to be offering a translation of the above article forthwith, since it goes well beyond this Liberation story about the PLA Band’s musical selections which honored the first lady.  The magazine has an excellent photo gallery here.

Here, in any case, is a representative case of French discussion of the Expo.

“When Shanghai Illuminates the World: The Heads of State from All the World’s Continents Come for the Inauguration of the world Expo, The Most Ambitious [Expo] of All Time,” Paris Match, May 6, 2010.

From Shanghai, China has long watched the transformation of the world.  Today, Shanghai itself demonstrates its power.  Two years after the Olympic Games, the third [sic] largest economy on the planet has yet to finish the party celebrating its entry into the 21st Century.  This time, it organizes the World Expo.  At  20:10 on 29 April 2010, the beacon-like city was transformed into a theater of light.  It is difficult to forget that China is the state which invented gunpowder, overturning its use in the arts of war to instead celebrate victories.  Arms of seduction, the firework-bouquets dazzled 20 heads of state and government.  Among them, Nicholas and Carla Sarkozy.  Under this apotheosis, the presidential trip achieved …three days of official meetings and cultural discoveries.  And China deserves one further parenthetical note: eternal.


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