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Shanghai's 2010 Expo: the 'Economic Olympics'

World Expos have been a snooze in the West for decades. But China's first one ever next year will be a wake-up call.

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Hosting a world expo was once a big deal. From London in 1851 to Chicago in 1893, these fairs put cities at the center of the world stage, just as Olympics and world cups do today. But today, within the West, the expo is the Rodney Dangerfield of major events.

One reason they "don't get no respect" is that host cities – not to knock Knoxville, Tenn. – haven't always been top-tier ones in recent decades. So it's not surprising that the 2010 expo hasn't gotten much attention in the West. That's too bad, because this one, in Shanghai, is unusually ambitious.

Obviously, it won't match the Beijing Games as a symbol of China's rising importance. But just as the Olympic opening ceremonies gave the world a glitzy tour of China's past, the expo will offer an important glimpse into its future.

Five story lines are emerging:

1. Shanghai: perfectly cast

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