Saturday, May 5, 2012

Expo and Korea

Expo's place in World History

Culture Minister Choe Kwang-shik, right, points toward a construction site of the Yeosu Expo during a recent visit to the southwestern port city of Yeosu, South Jeolla Province. A two-time Expo host, Korea first participated in the event in 1898 in Chicago. / Courtesy of Ministry of Culture, Sports & Tourism

One of the world’s largest events after the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games, the Expo has been held since the mid-19th century.

Ahead of the opening of the Yeosu Expo on May 12, a new book has been published on the history of the event that has yielded some of human’s greatest inventions and architectural landmarks.

Written by a former journalist, “Expo: Exhibition of Innovation,” tells the stories of 67 expos since 1851.

When Korea started to prepare for the Yeosu Expo, the author started to research the history of the expo.

“Expos provided a platform for networking different cultures and industries, well before the establishment of modern transportation or the Internet,” author Oh Ryong said in a statement.

The book is composed of five parts.

The first part deals with expos that took place between 1851 and 1900, when the West was undergoing industrialization. Most of them took place in Europe.

One of the world’s most famous landmarks, the Eiffel Tower, was a product of an expo. Built as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, it has become both a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world.
Philadelphia was the first U.S. city to host an expo in 1876.

The second part deals with expos during the years 1904-1939. The U.S. hosted an expo four times during this period, reflecting the country’s rise as an economic, science and cultural powerhouse.

At this stage, expos were especially focused on trade and were particularly famous for showcasing state-of-the-art technological inventions and advancements.

The 1904 St. Louis and 1915 San Francisco expos were landmarks in this respect, as inventions such as the telephone were first presented.

The third part covers the years between 1939 and 1987. This is when Asian countries started to host expos for the first time as a result of the rise of Asian economies.

Japan was the first Asian Expo host in 1970 in Osaka. The fourth part deals with expos from 1988 to 2010. This is when countries started to associate expos as a key venue for national branding.

Vehicle for nation branding

Starting with the 1988 Brisbane Expo and onwards, countries started to use expos as a platform to improve their national image through their pavilion. A large study called “Expo 2000 Hanover in Numbers” showed that improving national image was the primary participation goal for 73 percent of the countries at an expo.

In a world where a strong national image is an important asset, pavilions became advertising campaigns, and the expo a vehicle for “nation branding.”

For example, Spain used the 1992 Seville Expo and the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics to brand itself as a prominent member of the European Union and the international community.

The Chinese authorities used the 2010 Shanghai Expo to gain the world’s respect for the nation’s arduous drive toward development. The theme was “Better City — Better Life,” signifying Shanghai’s new status in the 21st century as the “next great world city.” The Shanghai Expo was the most expensive expo in the event’s history, where countries like the U.K. and Korea built mega pavilions to promote their culture and business.

Korea and expo

The fifth and final part deals with Korea’s relationship with the expo.

Korea hosted its first expo in 1993 in Daejeon, but its first participation goes all the way back to 1898 in the U.S. city of Chicago. The Korean pavilion, styled with a traditional rooftop, presented carriages, wardrobes of royal officials, fans, shoes and other everyday items.

Many Koreans still remember the excitement and hype surrounding the 1993 Daejeon Expo, officially known as the Taejon Expo.
Korea had become only the second Asian country, after Japan, to host this event. As a developing country obsessed with global recognition, this was a big deal for the whole country. Also, it was unique for a city other than Seoul to host an international event of such huge scale.

Daejeon, home to the nation’s premiere research and development cluster of Daedeok Science Town, is still associated with the expo in the minds of many Koreans.

During the Yeosu Expo, to be held from May 12 through Aug. 12, 105 countries and 10 international organizations will take part.
The remote southwestern city of Yeosu is determined to make it a defining moment for the region. Officials and residents are hoping that the Expo will be an impetus for the South Jeolla Province’s transformation to a comprehensive international marine leisure town.
The next expo will be held in Milan in 2015.

This book may lose relevance after the Yeosu expo is over, but it will continue to be a useful read nonetheless for those who are interested in the history of global industrialization and cultural exchanges.

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