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Fireworks light up the sky during the opening ceremony of the World Expo in Shanghai on April 30, 2010. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)
Fireworks light up the sky during the opening ceremony of the World Expo in Shanghai on April 30, 2010. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

Expo 2010 confirms how China has moved to world's centre stage Add to ...

The Universal Exposition, or Expo, has repeatedly been used as a coming-of-age party for countries looking to establish themselves on the world stage:

Britain's showcase The first World's Fair, as it was then known, was held in London in 1851. A showcase for the British Empire at its height under Queen Victoria, it marked the beginning of the Industrial Age. The Fair was attended by the likes of Charles Darwin, Charlotte Bronte and Lewis Carroll. Displays included the Jacquard loom, the Koh-I-Noor diamond and an early version of what would eventually become the fax machine.

Eiffel's debut L'Exposition universelle held in Paris in 1889 is most famous for bringing the city the Eiffel Tower, which was initially constructed as a gate to the fair ground. The exposition also featured works by Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh, as well as sharp-shooting shows by Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley.

U.S.'s rising power A series of World's Fairs held in 1904 in St. Louis, 1915 in San Francisco and 1933 in Chicago helped mark the rise of the United States as a great power. The latter Expo featured the latest automobile designs by Cadillac and Lincoln, as well as an appearance by the German airship Graf Zeppelin.

Japan's return Expo 1970 in Osaka is seen as the moment Japan returned to the forefront of international affairs after its defeat in the Second World War.

Canada's coming of age Some also argue that Canada's most prominent period on the global stage began with Expo 1967 in Montreal, ending with the Summer Olympics in the same city nine years later. "I've been saying to people here that Canadians get Expo because we had such a large Expo in 1967," said Mark Rowswell, commissioner-general of the Canadian Pavilion in Shanghai. "It was our coming-of-age party as a serious middle power on the world stage."

Expo's demise In recent years, Expo, which is held at irregular intervals, has lost much of the significance it once held. Recent fairs, such as Expo 2005 in Aichi, Japan, and Expo 2008 in Zaragoza, Spain, have served to primarily to promote lesser-known parts of their respective countries, and received little international attention. Expo 2012 will be held in Yeosu, South Korea.

Mark MacKinnon

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