Speaking from a personal standpoint, coming to Shanghai last year, meant coming here with an agenda of conducting fieldwork on the hosting city of World EXPO 2010, themed “Better City, Better Life”, or rather on how the imprint of this very event within the local context would take shape seven years later. To get an understanding of what its sociocultural heritage, its “legacy” might be and thus how it might be remembered in the decades to come. Not at all an easy task, since it clearly begs the questions of “where” and “how” to start such a project.
Traditional Anthropologists usually spend a prolonged period of time at a certain place to study and document a phenomenon or respectively a group of people. In a sense that is, what I did as well, spending a year here in Shanghai, although the studied group, being approximately 25 Mio. citizens might have exceeded the sample size of most other anthropological case studies by a fair degree. Of course, a city like Shanghai can’t be assessed ethnographically in its entirety. Thus, framing my research accordingly was of the essence, right from the start.
To ask for the heritage of something, already implies that this something, in this case, the EXPO 2010, is somewhat gone but still existent. The job of the researcher then becomes to find out, what is still there and why. The “what” and “why” actually describe, what an ethnography is all about, as you first get familiar with a certain field, phenomenon and its people, to then pose questions about the field and phenomena to those very people, to finally arrive at an answer to a research leading question that is very much rooted in those local perceptions of the world. To ask about the EXPO legacy, subsequently also means asking how and if the EXPO and it’s theme found their way into the contemporary Shanghainese culture.
Thus, the first task for me became to look for the materialist remnants of EXPO 2010 within Shanghai’s cityscape, referring mostly to buildings and related institutions, and assess how they might in a way serve future generations as a reminder of the largest World Exhibition in the history of mankind. The second task became to further trace the idealistic remnants of this EXPO, meaning the stories and takes on EXPO, gathering “narratives” (Marcus 1995) and personal accounts on this EXPO, through interviews. Hoping that contextualizing these obstacles with each other will eventually show, how and if certain places and narratives are related to each other.
One of the first remnants I’ve visited during my fieldwork was the former EXPO pavilion of Saudi Arabia (right), which aside from the famed red Chinese pagoda (left), was the only national pavilion that hadn’t been torn down up to that point, but actually remained opened to the public, at least a few more weeks. What has been so special about this pavilion was that it ranked second behind the Chinese pavilion in terms of visitors, back in 2010. Which basically meant that one had to queue in line for up to eight hours, in order to get in. Since I didn’t manage to do so back in the days, I decided to take my chances in October last year to get a glimpse of what it actually had to offer.
A mere seven years later, the queues were nowhere to be found, but as I made my way up to the roof, only a few things hinted to the past glory this building had seen. The upwards corridor was corroding and the IMAX cinema, once advertised as the largest on earth*, lost much of its fascination. Looking downwards from the roof on the former exhibition site, which had become a construction site in the meantime, would fit the picture of a city in constant transition, with only the former Chinese National Pavilion, the EXPO Axis, and the Mercedes-Benz Arena, serving as reminders of the magnitude this World EXPO once showcased.
Further down the road, right across the street from the China Art Museum, the EXPO Axis actually remained rather busy, as the former entrance area had in the meantime been developed into a shopping plaza, mostly hosting restaurants and retailers in form of a boulevard. It also featured a mini golf court on top, as well as the possibility of marrying with a view onto the formerly much acclaimed Chinese Pavilion, now turned China Art Museum.
The latter is probably the most significant reminder of the World EXPO 2010 and arguably already in a prime position to become one of the cities most famous attractions and architectural structures aside from the other already famed highrises on the east side of the HuangPu river in LuJiaZui. Both the China Art Museum as well as the Power Station of Art, which hosts the Shanghai Biennale, were former EXPO pavilions that turned to art hubs on the 1st of October 2012, the Chinese National Day.
**”New museums add colour to Shanghai art landscape”. France 24. October 1, 2012. Retrieved 26 September 2013.