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Shanghai rolls out record world's expo

From Miranda Leitsinger and Jo Kent, CNN
  • Shanghai's World Expo opens Friday night and runs for six months
  • The Shanghai expo is seen as part of China's coming-out party as a global player
  • Expo is expected to draw 70 million visitors and exhibits from 179 countries
  • Carries on the tradition of the world's fair, which first began in 1851 in London

Shanghai, China (CNN) -- Han Guiqun, 91, has seen a lot of history pass in Shanghai: civil war, World War II, the Cultural Revolution and the nation's dramatic economic reform.

Now he is about to witness history again as the largest world expo gets underway Friday in Shanghai.

"I'm so happy we're hosting the Expo," he said. "I've seen so many changes in China and it's a wonderful place now."

Up to $58 billion has been pumped into the local economy in preparations for Expo 2010 Shanghai, which runs from May 1 to October 31, with 70 million visitors expected. According to Chinese state-run media, 179 countries and 57 international organizations are confirmed to participate in the Asian nation's first time hosting the event -- which began in 1851 in London as the first world's fair.

Much like the 2008 Summer Olympics, the Shanghai expo is viewed as part of China's coming out party as a global player.

"Combining this fair with the Olympics of two years ago, I think that China hopes to be regarded more favorably in the rest of the world for its economic and social development, for its hospitality to visitors from overseas, especially, for its efforts to find a congenial place in the community of first-world nations," said John Findling, a historian and co-editor of "Encyclopedia of World's Fairs and Expositions."

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"In many ways, Expo 2010 in China reminds me a lot of the 1893 Chicago world's fair, the World's Columbian Exposition, which was America's announcement to the world that it had arrived, and it certainly marked a certain period in time," said Urso Chappell, founder of

"As far as a direct relationship, I see a lot of parallels between 2010 in Shanghai and Expo 70, which was held in Osaka," Chappell said. "At that time Japan, coming out of WWII, was still building up and basically trying to rebrand itself and show itself to the world, and I see Expo 2010 as very much being the heir to that."

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Past expos have created famous landmarks to mark the event, such as the creation of the Eiffel Tower for the 1889 world's fair in Paris and the Space Needle for the 1962 fair in Seattle. The Ferris wheel made its first appearance at the 1893 Chicago fair, the opening of the 1939 New York's World Fair was the first television broadcast event in the U.S., and the first touch-tone phones were displayed at the 1962 Seattle fair.

Countries are also using the Shanghai Expo as a promotion vehicle, with Saudi Arabia reportedly spending $164 million for the most expensive pavilion. A preview of the Japanese pavilion, designed like a giant "silkworm island," uses architectural innovations and recycled water to control the temperature of the building. Inside, the displays included electric cars, singing robots and simulations of traditional and modern Japanese life.

The expo movement, however, has had a checkered past. Most have lost money, according to Findling. The expo has not been in the United States since 1984, when the World Exposition in New Orleans went bankrupt and had to be bailed out by the Louisiana state government. "It was unsuccessful ... and a large reason why there hasn't been another fair in the United States," Findling said.

In 1994, U.S. Congress passed a law saying federal money could not be used for international expositions, so funding for the U.S. participation comes from corporate entities.

The 1998 Lisbon fair lost $1.32 billion, while the Hanover 2000 one lost some $1.2 billion, according to Findling's "Encyclopedia of World's Fairs and Expositions." On the flip side, Osaka 1970 brought in $146 million, while the one in Aichi, Japan, in 2005 posted a $109 million profit.

Even before its opening, the Shanghai Expo has not been without controversy. More than 6,000 people were recently detained in a crime crackdown in recent weeks, and 17,000 others have been relocated to make way for the $4 billion expo grounds, which spans over 5-square kilometers on the banks of the Huangpu River.

Resident Zhu Jindi claims she was repeatedly harassed. "The government just took away our home without any compensation," she says, "The Expo is supposed to make people's live better not worse."

The city also has also cracked down on the wearing of pajamas on the streets of Shanghai. "We have to dress in a civilized way," said Zhang Lianfang, a community organizer. "We need to present a tidy image."

Miranda Leitsinger contributed to this report from Hong Kong