When the visitor numbers to the Shanghai Expo hit 70 million on Sunday morning, there were cheers and applause from officials. Yes, it is indeed a great success. However, the celebration was somewhat subdued. That was more or less the right mood.
There was much anxiety months ago about whether the Expo was going to achieve its target estimate of 70 million visitors during the six months, given the 200,000-300,000 patrons a day at that time.
So measures were introduced to attract more visitors., an excessive number of visitors in fact, more than 1 million on Oct 16. It has become a serious concern.
I got back to Shanghai 10 days ago to catch a look at the Expo before the curtain closes on Oct 31. More than 600,000 people visited on Wednesday, the day of my visit
What it means is that I did not get to enter any of the pavilions since most of them would require hours just standing in long line. It scared me away.
Compared with those who rushed there in the early morning and queued for six or eight hours for one individual pavilion, I seem to be a lot less passionate.
In fact, my friends who went to the Expo from Beijing and New York did exactly what I did, by staying away from the queues and taking a "leisurely" walk to appreciate the pavilions from the outside.
Of course, I also met local residents who have patronized the Expo five or six times in order to see the most popular pavilions, those of China, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Germany and Switzerland. Most non-locals cannot afford to pay for multiple trips. The 160-yuan ticket does not seem to deliver what it is supposed to.
Even Shanghai Party Secretary Yu Zhengsheng admitted months ago that a relatively low turnout each day might be a good thing because it would give visitors a better experience of the Expo.
That is so true. In pursuit of 70 million visitors the quality of the experience has been discounted for many visitors. I am wondering if anyone has ever thought about putting a cap on the number of visitors each day in order to ensure the quality of the experience for visitors.
Just look at the number of doctoral students our universities churn out each year. It has dwarfed that of the United States, which has many of the world's top universities. However, the quality of the doctoral graduates from Chinese schools has become a pain that will be felt for a long time to come.
Quantity over quality has been the key to success in foreign trade in the past, but this has to change.
Now the 12th Five-Year plan proposes the transformation of the development mode. It will shift our growth priority from quantity to quality. To realize that, a further change of mindset is crucial, particularly at the local government level.
The 10-country-in-10-days package tours available when the Europe Union opened to Chinese tourists several years ago also reflects that rationale. You wake up after a nap and you find yourself no longer in Paris, but Brussels. To many Chinese tourists those days, it is the number of countries visited, not the quality of the trips that matters most.
The Shanghai Expo will set many records that will be held for many years, perhaps decades, including the number of sanitation workers who helped keep the area clean. There were 2,800 of them on the day when one million people visited. However, what will remain in the minds of visitors is their experience of the Expo, rather than the numbers.
After decades of rapid growth, China is getting ready to become a middle-income country. Yet that is only achievable if we get rid of the old mindset of choosing quantity over quality. That should also be the message of the Expo slogan of better city and better life.
The author is China Daily's chief correspondent in New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org