SHANGHAI — China declared its biggest tourism event ever, the Shanghai World Expo, a stunning success Sunday, after introducing a record 72 million visitors to a smorgasbord of cultures and technologies meant to illustrate ideas for urban sustainability.
The massive, six-month event aimed at showcasing China's rise as a modern industrial power drew mainly local visitors, many of them ordinary folk from the provinces who flooded into the city by the tour busload-full, cramming the city's hotels, subways and other public places.
They found waits of up to 10 hours for some popular national pavilions, sweltering summer temperatures, long walks and other inconveniences for what could be once-in-a-lifetime direct contact with foreign places and people.
Premier Wen Jiabao praised the fair Sunday as a "splendid event" that "truly brought together people around the globe."
Highlights included Denmark's famed "Little Mermaid" sculpture, a rooftop cable car ride above a replica alpine meadow at the Swiss pavilion, famous impressionist paintings from the Louvre at the French pavilion, and entertainment by Cirque du Soleil courtesy of Canada.
"Thanks to the expo, people like me who never would have a chance to go abroad can experience the whole world," said Zou Aiguo, a retiree from central China's Jiangxi province whose son gave him an expo tour as a present.
"It's my first time to Shanghai, the most prosperous city in China, and I'm very excited," he said.
Not everyone was pleased by the event, least of all some of those unhappy with being forced out of old housing to make way for the expo zone, but such criticism gains little traction in a country that vigorously suppresses public dissent.
China spent 28.6 billion yuan ($4.3 billion) on the event and many billions more on improving subways, airports and other public facilities in this metropolis of more than 20 million people. The entire city got fresh paint, new landscaping and flowers and a kaleidoscope of decorative lighting.
World Expositions began with the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, which marked the coming of the Industrial Revolution, and have often helped introduce new technologies, foods and innovative ideas.
Striving to make its fair a "green" one in keeping with its motto "Better City, Better Life," Shanghai deployed electric buses and carts and installed energy-saving air conditioning and water filters meant to cut use of bottled water. It also recycled rain water and made use of solar power.
Organizers even limited where visitors could smoke, though enforcement was lax, especially at night.
On Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the organizers for taking on the theme.
"The Shanghai Expo will close soon but it will not be forgotten," Ban said. "Let us keep the Shanghai vision alive in our discussions and our lifestyles."
An average 370,000 visitors traipsed each day; it was standing-room only when attendance hit a peak of 1.03 million on Oct. 16.
"The pavilions look great from the outside, better than I expected, but I'm not convinced it's worth waiting for hours in lines to get in," said Liu Xiaoyin, who drove her 13-year-old daughter to Shanghai from a nearby city.
"Anyway, we came over to have a look. After all, it is happening in China, so we Chinese should not miss it," Liu said.
The 72 million who managed to get to the event surpassed the previous record of 64.21 million visitors who attended the 1970 fair in Osaka, Japan. Achieving the record was an absolute must in a prestige-obsessed country with a penchant for overshooting numerical targets.
The next expo, in 2012, will be in the South Korean port city of Yeosu, with a similar theme of "Green Growth, Blue Economy," or marine-based sustainability. After that the expo will move to the Italian city of Milan in 2015, with a focus on food safety.
All but a handful of the more than 200 structures built for the expo along the banks of the Huangpu river — former shipyards and steel works destined to become prime real estate — must be dismantled and recycled or otherwise disposed of.
Some pavilions will be moved elsewhere to serve as museums or landmarks.
In recent weeks, many pavilions began selling off their remaining souvenirs and other miscellany as they prepared to shut down, including piles of memorabilia festooned with the big-eyed, bright blue "Haibao" mascot figure. (AP)