China’s Shanghai World Expo, which ended on Oct. 31, was certainly record-breaking. It clocked a staggering 73 million visitors, 9 million more than the previous record at Osaka in 1970. Whether the expo was successful was more questionable: the massive crowds—made up mostly of Chinese—spent an average of four hours (and up to nine) queuing for the most popular pavilions. There was widespread frustration, occasional fisticuffs, and even reports of able-bodied visitors swiping wheelchairs for priority access.
Even some Chinese commentators suggested the expo was another example of authorities sacrificing quality for quantity—in this case, their obsession with reaching 70 million visitors. After initial slack attendance, “organizers panicked,” says Prof. Liu Kang of Duke University, and bused in groups of government workers and retirees from around the country to pad the numbers. “China’s a quota-based country,” says Liu. The numbers certainly got attention—but as journalist Chen Weihua noted, they also contributed to a “discounted” experience for many visitors.