USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

America’s Wall of Shame

The World Expo in Shanghai is an international display of a country’s culture and initiative to be “greener.” Additionally, Expo serves as a window to the world for many of the Chinese citizens who have never had the opportunity to leave China. The Expo cleverly sold passports, and after visiting each pavilion, visitors would get a stamp. This became an abridged version of traveling to another country: waiting hours to get into the pavilion, going into the pavilion, shop the for the country’s goods, and finally receiving passport stamp before leaving. Many of the Chinese people held passports and booklets to signify their visit to the pavilion, and sometimes rushed to the next without enjoying the pavilion after their 2-3 hour wait. As a Westernized Chinese individual, I could not understand if these people see the Expo as an amusement park, a race to get all the stamps, or actually “visiting” a different country.

I started at the USA Pavilion because of the fast access my American citizenship granted me. I needed to see America’s effort (or lack thereof) in exhibiting “sustainable” practices and our diverse culture. Upon entry, there was a wall full of sponsor names that helped finance the pavilion. Next, there were three videos within the pavilion describing the American relationship to China, future of American green technology, and an “urban garden” vision bringing a community together. The conclusion of the pavilion was a sponsor interactive media room and gift shop.

After going through the pavilion, I pondered about its perception from both an American and Chinese point of view. As an American, walking into the first room and seeing a whole wall of sponsors, I dubbed it the Wall of Shame. If it was to test my skills of brand recognition, I passed with flying colors. It became justification that the United States didn’t see this as an opportunity to show the world, especially to China, how much it has advanced. Other pavilions had their sponsors very discretely displayed because the pavilion is the representation of the country, not the corporations. By placing the sponsor wall at the entrance and extremely large, we were embracing each company’s contribution to this wonderful. Is America’s intention to show an array of corporations making the world “greener?” I am skeptical that these companies have strived to find ways to make the cities of America better, nonetheless the citizens having a better life. Rather than watching the introductory video, I stared at this wall shaking my head in disappointment. To the Chinese, the wall seemed irrelevant, and just making it into the USA Pavilion after a 2-3 hour wait was enough to make them wide eye in awe. The Chinese speaking Caucasians were also an exhibition in itself.

The video in the second room seemed optimistic by having corporate leaders acknowledge the importance of childhood dreams, imagination, and creativity. It is true that children are important for their unhindered creativity and ideas, but my attention was drawn towards the speakers of their company logo blurred in the background, but still blatantly recognizable. Corporations like Pepsico and GE were telling me embrace childhood creativity, but why have I not even seen anything remotely close to advancing America’s overall sustainable practices?

The final video portrayed a girl dreaming of a community garden and attempting to rally her neighbors to participate. It was an optimistic message to the Chinese people who may not have seen or experienced an American neighborhood before. I was skeptical that a community garden was able to spark a whole new movement of making a gloomy city into one with roof gardens, greenhouses, and planter boxes.  USC does it’s civic duty in South Central Los Angeles by heavily advocating ONE community neighborhood help day. The video portrays an unlikely circumstance that superficially makes a better city and a better life.

In the last room before the gift shop, many sponsors were allocated a portion of space to display interactive tools to exhibit green initiatives such as solar collection and wind harvesting. I expected the last room to show something about our culture, cities, or states, but there wasn’t. America has 50 states, and I half expected that at least one state would make it into the pavilion. Is America then all about the corporations and how proud we are to have them represent our nation?

My disappointment with American Pavilion is only a small piece of a larger issue. Many countries see America as a land of great opportunity and our country flaunts that. However, its allure is starting to fade as China starts to develop. In order to gather the remaining funds to build the pavilion, China had to intervene and find corporations that had a stake in China. The United States has failed to use this as an opportunity to show and prove its mighty image. This pavilion did more harm that good to the image of the United States, especially when compared to our European counterparts. The pavilion’s lackluster appearance and interior content made me feel terribly guilty that these Chinese people waited hours in line to see something so unsubstantial and uninformative. In no way do I hate America, but rather, I am concerned of its global image especially in the eyes of developing China. If the United States does not change its blaze attitude about its global image and progress, it will most surely fall behind and lose its “prestigious” status.


Filed under: advertising, America, better city better life, China, corporation, global image, Perception, Shanghai Expo 2010, subliminal messaging


The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.



AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu