China takes pride in 2010 World Expo

SHANGHAI — A proud Shanghai threw open the gates of the 2010 World Expo today, kicking off an event that underscores the Chinese financial hub's comeback as a major world city after decades of spartan industrialism following the 1949 communist revolution.

Like the 2008 Olympics, the World Expo is showcasing China's growing economic and geopolitical sway, both for the world and for its own public.

"Everything starts at the World Expo and all things come together at the Expo site," said Jia Qinglin, the Communist Party's No. 4 leader.

Friday night's star-studded indoor festivities included action star Jackie Chan, Japanese singer Shinji Tanimura, concert pianist Lang Lang and opera star Andrea Bocelli, among 2,300 performers. Afterward, guests moved outside for a lights, music and fireworks jubilee that lit up the drab banks of the Huangpu River with 1,200 searchlights, powerful lasers and mobile fountains.

The Expo is expected to draw 70 million people over six months to pavilions from almost 200 nations designed to reflect the urban sustainability theme of "Better City, Better Life."

China is splashing out $4.2 billion on the Expo itself, and many billions more on other improvements for this city of 20 million people. Freshly painted buildings, new highways, subway lines and airport terminals — all proclaim the country's newfound status as a modern, increasingly affluent industrial giant.

The Expo caps a trio of landmark events that began with the Olympics and was followed by the elaborate military parades for the 2009 celebration of the 60th anniversary of Communist Party rule.

All have involved massive security crackdowns and intensified harassment of political dissidents.

Still, local authorities, determined to prevent crimes or disturbances that could mar the Expo, have tightened their enforcement of a ban on public criticism of the ruling Communist Party, harassing dissidents and jailing those who attempted to protest the demolition of their homes for the Expo.