The 1982 World’s Fair was hosted in Knoxville, and the China pavilion was easily one of the most popular attractions. It was also my earliest exposure to China. This New York Times article from the time contains many of same themes one sees in today’s China coverage, including rampant cultural commercialism, testy negotiations, “difficulties in communication”, and fear of loss of face:
CHINA EXHIBIT CAPTIVATES CROWDS AT WORLD’S FAIR
KNOXVILLE, Tenn., May 4— China’s participation in a world’s fair for the first time since 1904 has produced a dramatic exhibit that grew out of difficult negotiations that came within a breath of failure.
The pavilion is easily the most heavily visited one at the fair. The Chinese estimate that at least half of the quarter-million people who have turned out for the first four days of the fair have been through the China pavilion.
Virtually everything inside the pavilion is available for purchase, even the most intricate and expensive objets d’art….
For China’s part, said Lu Fengchun, commissioner general of the pavilion, the exposition was an opportunity for his country to expand its ”policy of open-door economics” that began in 1979 when diplomatic relations with the United States were established after 30 years without such ties….
Apparently, it was a fear that their exhibit might not compare favorably with those of other nations that caused the Chinese almost to reject the invitation to participate….
What Mr. Roberts described as ”difficulties in communication” plagued the prospect of Chinese participation for much of last year….
Finally, after three days of negotiations again in Peking, the Chinese agreed to come to Knoxville. The fair officials agreed to pay for shipping the large exhibit to the fair, to pay for some basic construction changes in the pavilion and to provide technical assistance in preparing the exhibit. The cost to the fair was more than $1 million.