The World Expo and Our Turbulent Era
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 7, 2010
Since its inception in 1851, The World Expo has undoubtedly been a venue for the expression of national power. That is why the Shanghai World Expo has stirred up so much excitement in the hearts of Chinese on both sides of the Strait. After a 40 year absence, a Republic of China exhibit has reappeared at the World Expo. It stands peacefully next to the Peoples Republic of China exhibit on the banks of the Huangpu River. The theme song of the Republic of China sponsored Taiwan Pavilion is "Taiwan's Heartbeat." The lyrics speak of "A little less hate, a little more us; a little less war, a little more simplicity." Who can possibly remain unmoved?
Nearly 160 years ago, Queen Victoria invited the world's governments to participate in the World Expo. The Qing court's response was lukewarm. During the London Expo of 1851 the China Pavilion was essentially constructed under duress by foreign companies in China. Shanghai businessman Xu Rongcuen, an employee of Dent & Co., had a discerning eye. He entered 12 packages of "Wing Kee Lake Silk," manufactured by his own family business, into the competition. The product won the "Manufacturing and Handicraft Award." Over the next 50 years of the 19th century, the World Expo showcased the remarkable achievements of the Industrial Revolution. Chinese exhibitors displayed Traditional Chinese Medicine, silk, tea, and other traditional commodities. The West displayed steam engines and trains. China displayed spinning wheels and handcarts.
In 1912 the Republic of China was founded. Interim President Sun Yat-sen met with representatives of the United States in February 1911. He vowed that "Once our political situation stablizes, we will send a delegation to participate." Soon afterwards the Qing emperor abdicated. Yuan Shikai was inaugurated as provisional president. U.S. President Taft extended a formal invitation to participate in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The following year, Yuan announced his decision to participate. The Northern Warlords Government prepared for over a year. It collected over 100,000 items from 19 provinces. The revolution was over. But the chaos of war was not. China had only a tenth of the funds other nations had to construct its "Chinese Government Pavilion." The Panama-Pacific International Exposition opened in late February 1915. The China Pavilion was belatedly opened in early March. Despite the nation's dire circumstances, the China Pavilion won over 1200 medals, including one for Mao Tai liquor. Ironically, people ignored the Mao Tai liquor because of its primitive packaging. But a porter accidentally knocked over a wine jar. The fragrance of Mao Tai filled the air, and people suddenly paid attention. In 1926, the Northern Warlords Government participated in the Philadelphia Expo. Although contemporaries documented it, referring to it as "Ancient Relics Go Abroad," few people visited the China Village.
By the time of the 1933 World Expo in Chicago, the Northern Expedition had successfully returned to Nanjing. It allocated a budget and established a preparatory committee. It even held a small scale World Expo in Shanghai to determine which products should be showcased. The chief juror was Cai Yuanpei. The total cost of the Chinese Pavilion was 22,000 USD, only one-fifth the cost of the Japan Pavilion. But its distinctive oriental features attracted over 2.5 million visitors. The construction process however was difficult. It officially opened half a month after the World Expo opened. This was the first time the Nationalist Government had participated in an expo. All China could display were ceramics, silk, lacquer carvings, jade, and other traditional crafts. Fortunately, a jade pagoda attract the world's attention. The foreign media commented that "The real China, including her culture and the arts, can be summed up in one word -- Jade!"
The World Expo shows that the march of human civilization did not spell the end of war. During the 1937 Paris Expo Nazi Germany rolled through Europe. Exhausted by war, Spain lacked the wherewithal to construct an exibit hall. Instead Picasso was invited to paint his famous painting "Guernica," indicting Nazi Germany for war crimes. The Chinese people will never forget the year of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident and the beginning of an eight year war of resistance against Japanese expansionism. The Republic of China was absent at the Paris Expo, and unable to participate in the 1939 New York Expo. Using donations from patriotic overseas Chinese, a "Chinese Village" was constructed at the San Francisco Expo, showcasing mainly Chinese traditional crafts, including temples and pagodas. Patriotic overseas Chinese recorded their feelings: "Although China is currently weak, we will surely prevail in our war of national resistance. Although China is currently weak, we will surely succeed in our project of national reconstruction."
The Republic of China's project of national reconstruction succeeded. But unrest continued. Nineteen years later, in 1958, another World Expo was held. The Republic of China had already retreated to Taiwan. In 1970, ROC Vice President Yen Chia-kan visited the World Expo in Osaka. Accompanying him were Sun Yun-suan, Li Kuo-ting and other financial and economic experts. The following year, the Republic of China quit the United Nations, then broke off diplomatic relations with Japan. Four years later, the Spokane Expo marked the last appearance of the Republic of China at a World Expo. The same year as the World Expo in Spokane, the People's Republic of China authorities constructed an exhibit hall and a plaque next to the Osaka World Expo to vent their anger.
Today, 40 years later, pavilions constructed by both Taipei and Beijing have met on the banks of the Huangpu River. China is no longer engulfed in the flames of war. Taipei and Bejing are no longer caught in a zero sum game. The Shanghai World Expo has opened with great fanfare. Taipei is pleased to be a part of it. Taipei hopes the Expo will be a success. Taipei should not be scornful of the chaotic crowds at the Expo. Civilization is a long road. Taiwan has walked that road. We hope that the mainland, which has endured centuries of war and poverty, will also be able to travel down that road and advance toward civilization.