China staged a series of performances, parades and forums here Sunday to celebrate the end of the Shanghai World Expo, which International Exhibitions Bureau (BIE) President Jean-Pierre Lafon called an "astounding success."
The first of its kind staged in a developing country, the event attracted 246 participating countries and international organizations and 73 million visitors. Both figures are records in the history of expos, the first of which was held in London in 1851.
On an area of 5.28 square kilometers, the Expo Site has become a global village where people can not only see rare cultural treasures from around the world -- the bronze chariot and horse sculpture from China's Warring States period, the statue of Athena from Greece and French impressionist masterpieces, for example -- but also get a taste of the diversity of the world's cultures through more than 20,000 cultural events.
The gala is eyed in China as another event of national splendor after the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games showcased China's status as an economic and political power to the world.
It is also a milestone in both economic and social terms, bringing attention to the future of the planet, which is battling with poverty, war, pollution and energy shortages.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao declared the closure of the Expo at a ceremony Sunday evening. Before that, he said at the Summit Forum on the sidelines of the Expo the success of the Expo has boosted China's confidence and resolve to pursue reform and opening up.
"The Expo has brought together the Chinese people wishing to learn more about the world and foreign friends wishing to know more about China. Thanks to the Expo, they have forged a strong bond of friendship," said the Premier.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the Expo a "remarkable, even historic event."
"I hope that China will be an urban pioneer," he said, adding that he looks forward to working closely with China on the sustainable development agenda.
CHINESE AS CITIZENS OF THE GLOBAL VILLAGE
The 184-day event provided a rare opportunity for Chinese people to experience the world with their own eyes and bodies. Although the number of overseas-bound Chinese tourists rose to 47.76 million last year, more than 200 times that of 30 years ago, most Chinese still have no access to first-hand foreign information.
Mei Haixing, 59, a retired teacher from a Shanghai middle school, has visited the Expo more than 30 times. He has written a 400-page diary to record his precious Expo memories. The diary has pictures, souvenirs and signatures from different pavilion curators.
"The Expo is like a huge museum of the world's different cultures," he said.
The Chinese are not satisfied with their current level of knowledge and access to entertainment, according to Sheng Banghe, a sociologist with the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics.
"At first, I jeered those who lined up to get a stamp in their Expo passports. Now I understand their enthusiasm. Many Chinese have no chance of obtaining a real passport, let alone receive visa stamps from other countries," said Zhang Wei, an editor at China Youth Daily.
Pavilions like the French "Sensual City" and the Italian "City of Man" that centered on an individual's free and vigorous lifestyle have inspired the Chinese to dream of an even rosier future.