The deflated attendance figures at the Shanghai World Expo were the result of a document that “discouraged and disapproved” state-owned entities from attending at government expense, according to the U.S.-based Boxun website and a number of Chinese websites. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was reported to have approved the circulation of the notice, leading to mass cancelations of publicly funded junkets to Shanghai, and a commensurate drop in visitor numbers.
The Chinese official press trumpeted Shanghai's Expo as aiming to be the best attended in the history of the event, but was relying heavily on state-owned enterprises to reach the quota. The failure of government players to turn up has seen a mass drop in numbers.
An entire week elapsed before the 1,000,000 visitor milestone was reached on May 7, and the event clocked slightly over 200,000 visitors on May 8, the first weekend since standard single day admission tickets were used.
An average of 380,000 visitors per day is necessary to reach the goal of having 70 million visitors for the 184-day event, a figure that would break the previous record of 64 million at Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan. However, as of May 6 the Expo has had an average of a mere 150,000 visitors per day, barely half of the required daily visitors.
The shortfall in numbers may be a direct consequence of the circular discouraging state entities from attending on public funds. According to Boxun, prior to the opening ceremony one World Expo official said, “If the State Council directive had come out earlier, we wouldn’t be so embarrassed right now. A lot of people couldn’t buy tickets, and forty-five percent of the tickets in the first month were bought by those [state] entities. Now they’ve canceled, and the loss is mutual.”
Dozens of Chinese online forums also copied the article and quote, but were later purged by China’s ubiquitous censors, only viewable in cache.
Chinese websites note that Wen Jiabao had criticized the Shanghai municipal government in the past for its apparently arrogant attitude towards the central government, which included reneging on policy items from the centre, disobeying budgeting requirements. The opening ceremony was scheduled to have former head of the CCP Jiang Zemin and former Premier Zhu Rongji present to receive flowers. Wen Jiabao was reportedly opposed to the plan and failed to show up at the ceremony, citing other commitments.
Migrant Workers on 'World Expo Leave'
As the Shanghai Expo opened, many migrant workers were seen carrying their bags and luggage among the waiting crowds on buses and trains to ride back home, according to a report by BBC China on May 8.
In order to beautify the city’s appearance, many construction sites were shut down and encircled by walls painted with slogans extolling the Expo. Some migrant workers told a BBC reporter that they were given an unpaid “World Expo leave” because all construction sites except for urgent projects must be suspended during the World Expo.
As to when they could return and whether they would still have a job, they said they had no idea.