[Viewpoint] Message from U.S. and China

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[Viewpoint] Message from U.S. and China

The curtain came down on the six-month-long World Expo in Shanghai on Oct. 31. In the past, World Expos have highlighted technology and invention, but the 2010 Shanghai Expo was an exhibition that promoted the participating countries’ cultures and values to the world.

“Better City - Better Life” was the theme of the Shanghai Expo, indicating that mankind is now entering the era of urban life. As of now, cities occupy only 2.8 percent of the Earth’s surface, but half of the world’s population - 3.2 billion - currently lives in cities and consumes 75 percent of the Earth’s resources.

The purpose of the Shanghai Expo was to provide an opportunity to seriously think about how we can resolve the problems arising from that way of living and how we can coexist in “beautiful” cities.

As soon as I stepped into the China Pavilion, which resembles an emperor’s crown in red, the venue caught my eye. The pavilion occupies 15,800 square meters (3.9 acres), the largest national pavilion at the expo. The three-story exhibition halls featured 17 themes, to showcase Chinese cities’ past, present and future as well as changes in the Chinese people’s lives and spirits.

An eight-minute video presentation on changes to the cities after the country opened itself to the world featured the power of the Chinese people and China’s capabilities, most likely filling Chinese viewers with pride.

It was a message that the innate wisdom of Chinese traditional culture will provide inspiration and answers to the problems associated with the development of modern cities, thus we should uphold and further develop such a culture. It was an exhibition to show off the Chinese philosophy of harmony between man and nature, and the moral nature of unity between humans and heaven.

The U.S. Pavilion was only half the size of the Chinese Pavilion. It promoted American culture and values under the theme of “Rising to the Challenge.” The architecture resembled an eagle stretching its wings in welcome, symbolizing the country as a land of infinite opportunities.

Using high-tech computer technology, the pavilion’s four unique exhibition halls featured the endless efforts of Americans, its imaginative power and desire to build a social community, as well as efforts by the United States to improve the world as a multicultural society.

The pavilion gave a strong message that Americans’ sense of adventure, optimism, determination and focus have allowed them to realize their dreams. It clearly represented the country’s spirit that Americans were united strongly under the conviction of building a beautiful world, no matter where its citizens come from.

One of the most memorable exhibitions at the pavilion was a short film, “The Garden,” which featured the tale of a young girl, whose imagination, determination and patience moved her neighbors to unite and build a flourishing garden in the community. It was a simple story, but it advertised American values very well - the possibility of sustainable development in a multicultural society, the spirit of unity, the focus on a healthy life and on advanced science, technology and creativity.

I was particularly impressed with the American volunteers’ fluency in the Chinese language. When a volunteer informed me of the safety guidelines - to calmly evacuate through automated exits in case of an emergency - I was once again touched that the United States was different from other countries in terms of its readiness to prepare for an accident involving a human life.

After visiting the national pavilions of the two countries, I felt that the U.S. Pavilion was forward-looking with 21st century values. Sustainable growth, coexistence with the world, communication with its neighbors, environmental friendliness and creativity were emphasized.

In contrast, the Chinese Pavilion appeared to put more emphasis on the values of the 20th century. In the Chinese Pavilion, I got the impression that the infinite growth and pride of traditional culture were emphasized. One of the visions of the future featured in the pavilion was simplicity, stressed by Zhuangzi, a Chinese philosopher. But if they really wanted to stress the Chinese classics, how about a promise to respect justice and human rights in the Northeast Asian region as a country of virtue based on views from the “Analects of Confucius” or the “Savings of Mencius?”

*The writer is an honorary professor of Chinese history at Hanyang University.

By Im Kaye-soon
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