How nations make an exhibition of themselves

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The Independent Online

At a cost of $58bn (£38bn), with 1,700,000 volunteers and 70,000,000 visitors expected, China's preparations for hosting the 2012 World Expo in Shanghai are lavish. But the 189 participating countries have more than played their part, as a glance at a few of the remarkable pavilions constructed for the festival shows.

Whether the designs tell you anything about the constructor country is another question, which may make our quiz, right, a little tricky. The American pavilion aside – the gigantic red letters USA are emblazoned on its multiplex-style grey cylinder – few of the designs make specific reference to their origins. For instance, the country which put together a giant rabbit on wheels is not famous for its lapine connections. The architects hope it will leave a lasting impression on the tide of visitors expected.

The enterprise was given a suitably extravagant launch yesterday, with thousands of fireworks and lasers lighting up Shanghai's riverfront as world leaders including France's President Nicolas Sarkozy looked on. The festivities dwarfed even those at the spectacular 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, and analysts say they have the same end in mind: the extension of China's so-called "soft power".

"It is the power of persuasion rather than of gunpowder," Shen Dingli, director of the Centre for American Studies at Shanghai's Fudan University, told the Associated Press. The intended message, he said, was: "China is doing better and better. There is no limit to what China can do."

But not everyone greeted the launch with the satisfaction. Some 18,000 families have been moved to make way for the development of the vast site, and the city is bracing itself for lasting gridlock. One resident, who gave his name as Dong, complained: "It's just not convenient to get in and out anymore."