Day Four – Shanghai/Beijing

You can follow Michael Russell’s journey here.

The fourth very early start. We were away from the hotel around 8am, but, because we made good time across the city we actually had to wait for the opening of the Expo site. We were not the only people – given that more than 600,000 people are expected today (and one million each day this weekend), the queues that we saw of those ready to enter must have numbered 40,000 or 50,000 yet were still dwarfed by the sheer size and scale of the site.

Shanghai Expo, whose theme is Better City, Better Life, has been running since the 1st May and closes on the 31st October. It occupies an enormous riverside lot (in fact two because there is a commercial site on the opposite side of the river) and its 300 or so pavilions have brought the whole world to China.

Education Secretary views art installation made entirely from gold

Given that we only had three hours we managed to pack a lot in. First port of call was the UK pavilion which is an iconic construction designed by Thomas Heatherwick. Known locally as The Dandelion, it is probably the pavilion closest in conception and execution to the theme of the Expo. Each of the thousands of acrylic roads threaded through the building contain a seed from China. These seeds are visible from inside the building.

UK Pavilion at the Shanghai ExpoThe interplay of plants, seeds and water creates questions about biodiversity, sustainability and the role of human kind whilst the irony of the surrounding landscape (shaped like an unfolded sheet of paper) speaks not only of the gift of the Pavilion made to the Expo by the UK but also of our need for an environmental revolution.

The pavilion has been outstandingly successful and played host to a number of Scottish groups over the past six months. It was therefore great to be able to meet this morning with a party of pupils from Lasswade High School who are on a trip to visit their partner school Tianlin Number 3 Middle School in Shanghai. They were quite literally flying the flag for Scotland but it was not the only Saltire we saw as a Hong Kong pipe band was playing in the Asian zone with a Saltire flying alongside them.

We then visited the Malawi pavilion within the African sector where links with Scotland were again discussed. The African exhibits have been funded by the Chinese government and are a further testimony to the developing relationship between China and Africa.

Then it was back on the electric buggy – all the transport within the site is green – and onto the China pavilion. A stunning, landmark building whose shape recalls the ancient rice vessels used in China. The fantastic centrepiece of a remarkable series of exhibits is an animation of a famous Chinese painting depicting life in a city, counterpointed by an electronic stream which contained images. This moving picture (in every sense) gives an immediacy to history whilst demonstrating the precise skill of the artist. It brings to life the nation’s past.

Shandong Pavilion

Finally, we were warmly received at the Shandong pavilion within an area where each of China’s 31 provinces is displaying their particular attractions from scrolls of Confucian thought (Shandong being the birthplace of Confucius) through to a washing machine that needs no detergent. This was an eclectic offering which was rounded off by a taste of Shandong wine and renewed friendship between Scotland the provence which was visited by Fiona Hyslop last year.

I could happily have spent all day, or many days, at the Expo. Indeed I was told last night during dinner of a Chinese family who live far from Shanghai but spent a month in the summer visiting the Expo everyday in order to see it all. Alas, we had to leave to catch a plane and as I write this I am in Beijing under a grey sky and at a very familiar Scottish autumn temperature about to change into my kilt for a reception at the Embassy. This will showcase some of the work from the School of Textiles within Heriot Watt University led by my old school mate from Marr College, Alison Harley.

A reminder that in this vast country there is always a small world.

Michael Russell: Cabinet Secretary for Education & Lifelong Learning, from China

You can view more photographs on the Engage for Education Flickr

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