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International expositions or "world's fairs" are the largest and most important stage on which millions routinely gather to directly experience, express, and respond to cultural difference. Rather than looking at Asian representation at the hands of colonizing powers, something already much examined, Asian Self-Representation at World's Fairs instead focuses on expressions of an empowered Asian self-representation at world's fairs in the West after the so-called golden age of the exhibition. New modes of representation became possible as the older "exhibitionary order" of earlier fairs gave way to a dominant "performative order," one increasingly preoccupied with generating experience and affect. Using case studies of national representation at selected fairs over the hundred-year period from 1915–2015, this book considers both the politics of representation as well as what happens within the imaginative worlds of Asian country pavilions, where the performative has become the dominant mode for imprinting directly on human bodies.
With its theme of ‘Feeding the Planet: Energy for Life,’ the 2015 Milan Exposition offered a unique opportunity for smaller Asian nations to present their unique culinary heritage before a largely Italian audience. Korea took the fair's theme seriously, seeking to educate audiences about the health benefits of hansik, its distinctive, often fermented, vegetable-heavy cuisine. The Korean pavilion brought fairgoers inside the experience of how the cuisine works, virtually on a cellular level, in a highly aestheticized environment resembling an art installation. While hansik probably won few Italian converts, the youthful energy and exuberance reflected in the pavilion and its guides that exploded onto the streets of Milan during Korea week in June 2015 reflected its positive international cultural branding.
Keywords: Korea, hansik, foodways, affect, art installation
With its theme of ‘Feeding the Planet: Energy for Life,’ the 2105 Milan International Exposition sought to link food cultivation, production, and consumption practices with the demands they place on our planet. Fair organizers wished to create ‘an Expo in which content and container, signifier and signified, are therefore no longer separated but become a single whole’ (Milan Expo 2015a, p. 5). Possibly no country took this brief as seriously as South Korea (Republic of Korea), with their ambitious theme, ‘Hansik, Food for the Future: You Are What You Eat.’ Hansik, Korea's vegetable-heavy cuisine which features fermentation, was set out as a solution to the problems of world hunger, obesity, and scarce resources. This chapter considers how the pavilion's interactive installations and its attractive, young Korean hosts maximized the possibilities for generating affect, generating an energy that exploded out into the city of Milan during ‘Korea Week’ in June. I will argue that the modes used to communicate the wonders of hansik largely failed to adequately consider the embodied and cultural dimensions of food, particularly for its largely Italian exposition audience. While the pavilion maximized affect by appealing to the visual and the aural faculties, offering spectators an extraordinarily well integrated, intelligent, and beautifully aestheticized experience, it did not engage the senses of taste and smell, essential pleasure centres for the experience of food.
With the much-loved King Bhumibol Adulyadej (r.1946-2016) on his virtual deathbed while the 2015 Milan International Exposition was being planned and became operational, it is hardly surprising that the pavilion's content reflected the nation's anxieties more acutely than it engaged with the fair’s food-oriented theme. While the exterior of the national pavilion expressed an organic, earthy quality that departed for the usual iconic Thai temple architecture, the interior offered up a series of three discrete sites in which fairgoers were bombarded with visual stimuli that conflated the country's abundant natural resources with corporatized food production, ultimately wrapping it up in a paean to the King for his role in virtually single-handedly creating a more efficient agricultural sector.
Keywords: Thailand, soft power, King Bhumibol, food
The case of Thailand at the 2015 Milan Expo is fascinating not only for how it chose to represent itself, but for what it revealed about the nation’s domestic dramas and political anxieties at a moment when the country’s beloved, long-serving monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej (r. 1946-2016), was on his deathbed. Ever-present despite his physical absence, the King who had become a virtual quasi-divine figure over the course of his reign was both the means and the message for the audience as they moved through the pavilion's three dedicated halls. The overall exposition theme, ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,’ provided an opportunity for Thailand to present itself as ‘the Golden Land,’ one blessed by human and supernatural forces, placing it in a unique position to respond to food security issues with its corporatized food production and an agricultural sector under the stewardship of a wise king. As was the case with Korea, the fair's theme tapped into a pre-existing international campaign centred around food; yet unlike Korea's campaign, which in the years prior to the expo focused on increasing the number of Korean restaurants overseas, Thailand's campaign sought to further international markets for pre-packaged foods manufactured by the country's largest food corporations. Thus, corporate interests were aligned with those of the state in ways that reflect both the nexus of power, politics, and influence in Thailand in an age that has moved beyond capitalism into what Edward Luttwak identifies as ‘turbo-capitalism’ (Luttwak 1998).
The chapter sets out the rationale for and structure for this inquiry into Asian self-representation at World's Fairs, or international expositions. Using a case-studies approach, the book will consider how independent Asian nations have sought to shape and control the ways in which they were represented at these events. China and Japan at the San Francisco Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915 are the focus of the first two chapters, followed by Japan in at the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair, and China at Expo ‘88 in Brisbane. Other fairs and nations examined in the 100-year span of this inquiry include the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair (the Philippines and Indonesia) and the 2015 Milan International Exposition (Thailand and Korea).
International expositions remain the largest and most important stage on which millions of humans routinely gather to experience, express, and respond to cultural difference. The London Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, regarded as the first of what later became known as ‘world fairs,’ evidenced features that were later to become standard, and was largely a national trade show, with Asia represented primarily through the display of objects, chiefly from British-colonized India. By the time of the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle and the 1893 Chicago Exposition, these mass events presented opportunities for fairgoers not just to look at objects, but to gaze upon humans from far-flung, colonized lands, as foreign bodies increasingly constituted a key audience attraction. During the ‘golden age’ of the exposition which lasted until World War I, these human encounters, many of them staged in virtual villages such as the Cairo Street at the 1889 Paris Exposition or the Philippines Reservation at the 1904 Saint Louis Exposition, were presented as authentic reproductions of life ‘back home,’ making villagers available to fairgoers to be scrutinized, evaluated, and judged as they carried out the activities of daily life.
Indonesia was one of the first Asian nations to sign up for the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, with the country's participation intimately connected to the downfall of the country's charismatic leader, President Sukarno. The erratic, brilliant, mercurial Sukarno was personally involved in the form and content of the country pavilion, reputedly selecting the attractive women who served as pavilion guides. The centerpiece of the pavilion was a theatre restaurant, which offered elaborate music and dance performances four times a day. As the US government grew increasingly hostile to Sukarno's policies and the entire Southeast Asian region became unstable, Sukarno's health and power began to fail, resulting in the nation’s withdrawal from the second year of the fair.
Keywords: Indonesia, Sukarno, dance, media representation
The case of Indonesia at 1964 New York World's Fair would appear to have much in common with the Philippines. As another formerly colonized, newly independent Southeast Asian nation with an even vaster archipelagic reach than its neighbour to the east, it also sought to represent itself in ways that championed modernity and tradition, wrapped in a national framework that celebrated cultural diversity. Yet unlike the Philippines, the Indonesian pavilion's content, design, and even its very location in New York was largely directed not by a diverse team of officials, but largely by one man: President Sukarno. Because Sukarno's fall from grace was so spectacular, with his health and grip on power rapidly declining as his country spiraled into economic chaos in a geopolitical region increasingly plagued by instability – much of it of his own making – his role in directing and shaping Indonesian culture has been a difficult one to assess openly and honestly. Sukarno's nation fell into its ‘Year of Living Dangerously’ – a phrase he famously coined – in 1965, the second year of the New York fair, and by early 1967, he was under house arrest, his reputation in tatters. Though Suharto, the military commander who eventually succeeded him as President ran the country for a vastly longer period of 31 years, it is Sukarno, for all of his failings, who is still regarded as the founder of modern Indonesia.
By the early 20th century, Japan was the master of the international exhibition format. With over fifty years of experience at world's fairs in the West, Japan knew how to market its culture and products in a manner appealing to the Western consumer of both high art and decorative objects. The 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition provided the country with a unique opportunity to create a strong and lasting imprint on American bodies in the country pavilion site with its famed gardens and exotic, kimono-clad women. As the epicenter of Asian migration, San Francisco also offered unique opportunities to further the power of Japonisme in the arts, while politicians in both countries used the event to champion Japanese-American relations.
Keywords: Japanese aesthetics, Japanese femininity, consuming Japan
As Europe was rushing headlong into war, the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) in San Francisco sought to embrace peace from the Pacific coast of an isolationist America. Despite the sinking of the passenger liner, the Lusitania, by German U-Boats with the loss of 128 American lives just a few months after the fair's opening, the American public and its political leaders were in no mood for war. The San Francisco exposition, which ran from 20 February to 4 December 1915, celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal, seen as the key to future economic prosperity through enhanced sea connections between the US and Asia as well as America's two coasts, with San Francisco, the financial centre and largest city on the American Pacific coast, taking a leading role. For San Franciscans, the fair was an opportunity to show off their glittering city, one that had been brought to its knees by the 1906 earthquake and ensuing fires that destroyed vast swathes of the ‘City by the Bay.’
The Japanese, like their American friends, viewed peace in the Pacific as a necessary counterbalance to the war enveloping Europe. At a diplomatic function in San Francisco immediately prior to the exposition opening, Admiral Baron Shigetō Dewa, one of Japan's most senior military commanders, enthusiastically proclaimed the PPIE a ‘Congress of International Peace,’ articulating the widely-held view that the canal would bring ‘increasing communication and intercourse among the peoples of the world,’ and provide ‘a real contribution to the cause of peace’ (San Francisco Chronicle, 4 Feb. 1915, p. 9).
While diminished audience numbers and the impossible scale of resources required to successfully pull off international expositions over the last fifty years suggests that their days are numbered in the West, the extraordinary draw of the 2010 Shanghai Expo (73.1 million) demonstrates that the form is far from dead. The massive resources that flowed into that expo and the 2020 Dubai Exposition would suggest that top-down economies, ones where the state functions as the seat of corporate power, can create an attractive platform for any ambitious nation to seek out a seat at the table. The future of representation at world's fairs may thus be more about ‘nationalising the sell’ than representing nation.
Keywords: Dubai Exposition, Osaka Exposition, Chinese allure
The 2015 Milan Exposition makes clear that the grand European exposition as a national project is unlikely to be revived anytime soon. Perhaps the bleakest assessment on the exposition form came from British architecture and design critic Oliver Wainwright. Writing for The Guardian before the expo ended, he argued that in the wake of two disastrous prior European expos, Seville's Expo 92, which left the city deeply in debt, and the poorly-attended Hanover 2000, ‘it seems clearer than ever that the format of the world exposition is well past its expiry date, leaving a trail of debt and destruction wherever it strikes’ (2015). The massive cost-overruns of the Milan Expo, which blew the budget out to €1.3 billion, the unsightly unfinished pavilions that required a €1 million to conceal (Cameron 2015), and the full-scale anti-Expo rioting on the streets of Milan at the time of its opening made this one of the most fraught and criticized international expositions in history. Milan Expo master planner Jacques Herzog spoke out against way the expo was executed in the post-design phase, characterizing it as a ‘vanity fair,’ (Heilmeyer 2015, p. 54) while even Pope Francis weighed in, responding to the fair's theme of ‘Feeding the Planet’ with the observation that the Expo itself is part of a ‘paradox of abundance’ that ‘obeys the culture of waste and does not contribute to a model of equitable and sustainable development’ (Day 2015). With 21.5 million visitors, Milan's Expo attracted only a few million people more than Hanover's (2000), and a number of European nations chose not to participate, suggesting that fully international fairs in Europe may no longer be viable.
As Asia and Europe raced toward another catastrophic world war, the Japanese government engaged Nippon Kōbō, its de-facto state propaganda machine, to reinforce America's love affair with all things Japanese at the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair. The temple-like national pavilion set amidst an extensive garden celebrated the strong diplomatic and trade relationship between the two countries, while highlighting the ‘softer’ and more feminine side of Japan through displays featuring attractive, kimono-clad women engaged in silk production, ikebana floral arranging, and the ubiquitous ‘tea ceremony.’ The reception given to the genderbending performing arts company, Takarazuka in May, 1939, suggests Americans were unwilling to change their perception of Japan as the land of cherry blossoms and willowy maidens.
Keywords: diplomatic performance, cultural fusion, Japanese femininity
At a time when the world was once again on the verge of war, thirty-three nations came together for the 1939 New York World's Fair at a site a mere twelve miles from Midtown Manhattan, to ‘demonstrate how tools, processes and knowledge of today can create a better World of Tomorrow.’ Like the next significant New York fair, in 1964-1965, it was established and run as a fundamentally commercial operation and was held over into a second year with the hope of recouping costs and returning a profit. Centrally-positioned in this international exchange of cultures, technologies, and ideas was Japan, America's third-largest trading partner, with its enormous country pavilion, reputedly modelled after the famous Grand Shrine of Ise, serving as a performance space in which the complex relationship between the two countries was displayed and acted out. This chapter will consider how the pavilion and its exhibits, carefully stage-managed by the Japanese firm Nippon Kōbō, which by 1939 functioned as a ‘state directed propaganda organ’ (Germer 2011, pp. 4-5), as well as the performance of Japan's Takarazuka Revue on the fairgrounds, reflected how Japan projected its culture to American fairgoers. The pavilion offered multiple sites of performance, fundamentally gendered spaces that foregrounded the charm, industriousness, and artistic skills of kimono-clad women, while the Revue sought to present another, more modern vision of Japan. Thus, the story is equally about Japanese self-representation and American reception, one made more complex by the imperial government's tight control over content at a time when the country was being transformed into a war machine run by a de-facto military dictatorship.
The New York World's Fair of 1964-1965 offered an unprecedented opportunity for smaller Asian nations to reach an audience of 54 million American in the world's most dynamic city. The country pavilion of America's former colony, the Philippines, occupied a commanding position near the iconic ‘Unisphere,’ the fair's symbol, with a structure that echoed tradition while proclaiming modernity. The beating heart of the pavilion were its many guides hailing from the country's ‘best families’ who presented regular dance programs. The so-called ‘Philippines Cultural Invasion of New York’ on the occasion of Philippine Week in June 1964 generated an explosion of Filipino culture into midtown Manhattan, chiefly through folk dance and spectacular public displays of neo-ethnic and contemporary fusion fashion.
Keywords: Philippines, dance, fashion, New York City
The 1964-1965 New York World's Fair was not an official international exposition, but rather an ambitious outlier, an enterprise designed to turn a profit, led by Robert Moses, the legendary unelected powerbroker credited by many with planning and shaping the physical infrastructure of New York City at mid-century (Caro 1975). According to the BIE rules, no approval was to be given for a ‘world expo’ in a country that had hosted one within a single ten-year period; as the Seattle World's Fair had been sanctioned for 1962, a New York fair commencing in 1964 was never going to receive international recognition. Ostensibly meant to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding of New York City, Moses’ fair was remembered more as a celebration of American consumer culture than as a truly international event. While the over-enthusiastic Moses initially projected 70 million attendees (Grutzner 1960), 54 million passed through its turnstiles over its two years of operation (Samuel 2007, p. 199). It remains the most well-attended fair in US history and is remembered for its sunny, optimistic orientation and embrace of a future where progress was presented as unending, particularly in the interactive displays in the huge and expensive corporate pavilions that offered glimpses into a utopian future characterized by ever increasing leisure, comfort, and ease. Lawrence Samuel characterizes it as the ‘final gasp of American innocence, the last time and place in which the harsh realities of the mid-1960s could be ignored on such a large scale’ (2007, p. xviii), the capstone of ‘the American century’ famously prophesized by Life magazine publisher Henry Luce in 1941.
Eager to shake off the trappings of the Manchu-dominated Qing Dynasty, the new government of the Republic of China sought to present an image of itself at the 1915 San Francisco exhibition as both inheritor of a long and proud civilization as well as a country embracing modernity. Complicating the situation was the San Francisco Bay area's large Chinese population, a group that in spite of their many years on American soil, was much maligned and stereotyped by the general population. China's government largely followed Japan's model, with a series of attractive pavilions in a garden compound, while the so-called “Chinese Village’ in the fair’s entertainment zone featured an exhibit that provoked much controversy.
Keywords: Chinese in California; Chinese trade
Emerging from the detritus of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), the new government of the Republic of China was internally divided as it began preparations to represent itself at the Panama Pacific International Exhibition (PPIE). At the time of the Chinese pavilion groundbreaking in October, the country was led by Provisional President Yuan Shikai, who briefly restored the monarchy by the end of the 1915, installing himself as Emperor, serving for only a few short months until his death the following year. As preparations were underway to present in San Francisco, China was already plunging in disarray following the assassination of the youthful Kuomintang President and Prime Ministerial hopeful Song Jiaoren on 22 March 1913, most likely at the behest of Yuan himself. Given the internal chaos increasingly overtaking China which would worsen after 1915, it is perhaps not surprising that Chinese self-representation was largely wrapped in the mantle of its long history of civilization while sidestepping unhappy recent memories of the inward-looking, decidedly anti-modern, Manchu rule. The longevity of China's traditions and the exquisiteness of its craftsmanship in porcelain and woodworking were on display in its national pavilions and the Palace of Fine Arts, while Chinese products were exhibited in the exposition’s themed ‘palaces,’ aimed at increasing American demand for imported Chinese goods. The other complicating factor was the Chinese community in the San Francisco Bay area, and particularly in the city's well-established Chinatown, which had much to gain or lose from the ways in which China was represented at the fair, largely because their position in America, like that of their mother country within an Asia increasingly dominated by Japan, was so precarious.
After a long absence from the international exposition stage, China (now the People's Republic of China or PRC) under the leadership of market-friendly Deng Xiaoping, sought to leave a strong, positive impression on its Australian neighbors at the Brisbane ‘88 Expo. Australia was one of the first Western nations to deepen its relationship with China in the post-Mao era, and by 1988 the Australian public was enthralled by the ‘terracotta warriors’ and their acrobatic troupes, long a centerpiece of cultural diplomacy. China's modes of self-representation reflected what Australian admired about the country and just a year before Tiananmen, the PRC offered up a play banned during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), hinting at a more open, democratic future that was not to be.
Keywords: Chinese acrobats, Australia, Beijing Opera
In the post-World War II era, it soon became clear that military force, diplomacy, and commerce were not themselves fully sufficient to advance an ambitious nation's interests on the international stage. At the height of the Cold War and continuing into the 1960s, as the US and the USSR emerged as the two competing global superpowers, the US sought to extend its power through the attractiveness of its popular culture – notably rock and roll and youth culture – while on the high culture side it promoted the abstract expressionism in the visual arts and modern dance as appealing markers of American cultural vibrancy. Joseph Nye, writing of America’s use of such cultural resources to generate a more favorable image of itself internationally, famously termed this ‘ability to attract’ ‘soft power’ (2004, p. 6). Nye's framework, which will be invoked in future chapters as well, is relevant in considering the resources that China, or the People's Republic of China (PRC), employed to win the hearts and minds of not just politicians, but ordinary citizens in the West from the 1970s onward.
Ten years after the death of the senior leaders of the revolution, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, China under Deng Xiaoping sought to embrace a kind of ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’ 中国特色社会主义, a concept that in practice came to mean a kind of state-directed capitalism.