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The Shanghai Expo is a Worthy Symbol of Today's China

 Article by Ambassador Liu Xiaoming to the Telegraph on April 30th 

If you visit the Albert Memorial in Kensington, as I recently did with my family, you might notice that the Prince's statue is holding something in his right hand. It is the catalogue for his great legacy: the first World Expo, which drew representatives of 25 countries, and more than six million people, to the Crystal Palace in 1851.

Among the exhibitors were two Chinese merchants: Xi Sheng, who can be seen in Henry Courtney Selous's oil painting of the opening ceremony, and Xu Rongchun, a businessman from Shanghai whose packages of fine silk earned him a medal for manufacturing and handicrafts.

Over the decades since, these Expos have become the world's cultural, economic and technological Olympiads. A host of life-changing inventions, from ice-cream cones and bottled water to electric lights, automobiles and aeroplanes were brought to public attention through successive Expos. Tomorrow, Shanghai will continue the tradition started in London, as the city welcomes 246 countries and organisations to the largest Expo yet.

For Shanghai, this six-month-long festival, which is set to attract 70 million visitors, is the equivalent of the Olympics in Beijing: a chance to showcase itself to the world. Eight years of hard work have transformed the Expo site along the Huangpu River into a dazzling display of what is best in the architecture, art, science and technology of the world's nations. Two million young people have come forward to act as volunteers, and many are opening their homes to foreign guests so they can understand the lives and thinking of ordinary Chinese people.

The location of the Expo is especially fitting, because Shanghai epitomises China's drive towards modernisation over the past 30 years. In the early 1990s, it was plunged into a frenzy of development – half of the world's cranes were said to be in Pudong, its bustling new financial area. It has also suffered from serious forms of urban excess: over-population, congestion, and pollution. The challenge for the city, and to a large extent the country, is to make development more sustainable and environmentally friendly while meeting people's aspirations for a better life. The theme of the Expo – "Better City, Better Life" – reflects how hard China is working to upgrade its industrial structure, and shift the economic pattern from the consumption of energy and resources towards sustainable and low-carbon development.

In doing this, we will be trying to learn from the best ideas and practices of other countries – and the Expo offers Britain a major opportunity to present the best it has to offer. The British pavilion – set to be one of the star attractions – has been given the affectionate nickname of "The Dandelion" by Chinese internet users, due to the 60,000 spikes crisscrossing its surface (the "seeds" at the ends will be sent to schools across the country at the end of the Expo, as a gesture of friendship).

Together with performances by the Royal Ballet, the London Symphony and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Dandelion will go a long way towards updating the old image held by the Chinese of Britain as a cold, foggy country inhabited by people with overcoats and umbrellas, projecting instead an image of your country as a magnet for ideas, innovation and investment.

Most of all, the Shanghai World Expo will be another encounter on a massive scale between China and the world – only it will last for far longer than the Beijing Olympics. The Expo is all about understanding and friendship across races, cultures and different ways of life.

Judging by the excitement of many of my British friends, I know it will be another wonderful opportunity for China, Britain and the world to celebrate our common humanity and common achievements.