"Expositions are the timekeepers of progress. They record the world's advancement. They stimulate the energy, enterprise, and intellect of the people; and quicken human genius… They broaden and brighten the daily life of the people. They open mighty storehouses of information to the student. Every exposition, great or small, has helped to some onward step… These buildings will disappear; this creation of art and beauty and industry will perish from sight, but their influence will remain.”
William McKinley, 1901
With the entire world watching the recently opened Shanghai Expo 2010, students need to be aware of the impact that such a monumental event will have on national and international design and relations. It is estimated that over 100 million people will attend the Expo over the next six months, 95 million of whom will be Chinese. Incredibly, 189 countries will be represented on the small 5.3 km-square-kilometer site at which the exposition will take place, and whereas the 2008 Beijing Olympics was an opportunity for China to impress the world, the 2010 expo is now an opportunity for the world to impress China. It is no secret that China’s 1.3 billion citizens constitute the largest mass market in the world, and it is no surprise that approximately $59-billion has been spent from countries around the world to ensure that their name will be seen by millions of avid Chinese consumers.
It’s important to consider how the United States has showcased itself at this event. Just take one glance at the homepage of our country’s pavilion and you’ll see that there are more advertisements and links to social networking pages than there are states in the union. This seems like a fairly accurate representation of the United State’s interest in the fair – large corporations and power players want to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to present themselves to the largest consumer base in the world with the hopes of expanding their international market and developing new trans-pacific customers.
But how does this affect the role of a designer, or a student interested in the design profession? Take a look at any of the successful advertising from US corporations and you’ll see Mandarin script right alongside English text. Asian and American models stand shoulder to shoulder with smiles on their faces, each trying in earnest to reinforce a sensation of Sino-American acceptance and camaraderie. Designers need to accept the fact that “Chimerica” (an intensive international relationship at political and economic levels between China and America) is definitely a reality. Learning Mandarin might be one of the best ways to succeed in the imminent economic future, and taking the time to understand Chinese culture will surely help any designer better understand the wants, needs, and expectations of Oriental clients.
I leave you with this question: how can America match the economic superiority of China’s industrial production? Will our powers of creativity (from new engineering patents to graphic and architectural design) be able to secure us a foothold in the coming technological and sociological developments that are sure to occur over the next ten years? What will the role of an American designer be as Sino-American relationships become more intertwined? Will we be intermediaries between clients and their projects in matters of design and language as well? Only time will tell, but until then “hòu huì yǒu qī,” as they say, and I wish you all the best in your design endeavors.