In an online interview in Beijing last week, Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng clarified that the cost of hosting 2010 World Expo, scheduled to open in May, would be about 28.6 billion yuan rather than the rumored 400 billion yuan.
Whatever the cost, there will always be people in Shanghai asking what that money, plus the spending on Expo-related infrastructure, including the building of new roads, repaving old ones and the rebuilding or white washing of many city landmarks, will buy for Shanghai.
To be sure, a part of the total spending can be recovered in ticket sales and the collection of addition taxes from the projected increase in tourist spending on hotels, entertainment and shopping. But the total cost in financial and human resource terms can never be fully recovered, even by the most optimistic income estimates.
So, other than prestige, what real benefits can Shanghai derive from all its effort?
The answer to that question may well lie in a one-page flier jointly issued by the various community centers of Ningbo city in Zhejiang province. Refreshingly brief in hyperbole, the statement exhorts Ningbo residents to be "self motivated to behave in a civilized manner" so as to "project the proper image" of the city that is co-hosting the Expo because of its proximity to Shanghai.
The list of "don'ts" includes no spitting, no littering and no smoking in public places. People are called upon to take the initiative to clean the railings, streets and the common areas in their communities. To be good citizens worthy as Expo hosts, they should greatly strengthen their awareness of the environment and put that awareness into action by planting trees and saving energy, the government flier says.
In addition to positive action, people of this seaside city with one of eastern China's busiest ports are urged to develop a keen sense of civility toward fellow citizens as well as visitors from other parts of the country and abroad. With this "new mindset", people should become more willing to adhere to the "civic rules" when they go on outings, watch games or are simply having a good time with relatives and friends.
As it is, the cost of hosting the Expo, even if it should exceed the rumored 400 billion yuan, seems a reasonable price to pay for the restoration or enhancement of civility in some of the mainland's largest and economically most advanced cities. As the Ningbo flier says, Expo is the inspiration to "project and extend" the Chinese traditions of civility and goodwill to all.
Those traditions seem to have been largely eclipsed by the almost single-minded pursuit of breakneck economic growth in the past several decades. When I first came to Shanghai in 2004 with another reporter from Hong Kong, which is not exactly a city that exemplifies civility, we were taken aback by the prevailing rudeness in the streets, the subway and many stores and restaurants.
The reporter with me was knocked down by a bicycle rider in Xintiandi, an up-market entertainment district. Rudely, the rider simply picked up his bike and rode on without a word after the incident.
But when I returned to Shanghai in 2009 after having spent a year elsewhere, I noticed a marked change in the general attitude of Shanghai residents. Rude motorists aside, the city appeared to have gone through a make-over in terms of civility. Yesterday morning in the rain, a passerby in the street stopped a vacant taxi for me after he saw I was chasing after it.
A Shanghai friend told me it was part of the Expo effect.
(China Daily 03/15/2010 page8)