How One Million People Spent a Perfect Autumn Day in Shanghai


The most crowded place in the world today is a few miles from where I’m now sitting. More than 1 million people poured into the Shanghai Expo today, on a beautiful autumn afternoon, with bright blue skies and 70-degree temperatures.

It was almost certainly the busiest day of the Expo, beating yesterday’s record.  Once today’s final visitor count is in, the crowd will certainly set some kind of record for most people paying on a single day to visit a single attraction.

If today’s visitors all lined up in an orderly queue (which they almost certainly did not do), today’s crowd of Expo visitors would stretch for about 500 miles, or about halfway to Beijing.

Even with a typical daily crowd one-third that large, the lines inside the Expo often stretched beyond the patience of many. Waits of two to three hours to enter the most popular pavilions were not uncommon. With a crowd twice as big as usual, my guess is that the other record broken today was for most people waiting the longest, on some of the longest lines, displaying the greatest patience.

Besides the perfect weather, the other reason for today’s enormous crowd is that today is the next-to-last Sunday before the Expo closes to the public. It opened almost six months ago, on May 1.

I was in Shanghai today for a finance conference. As I rode the metro in mid-afternoon through the center of the city near the Expo, it seemed like the +1 million visitors were all trying to jam their way onto my subway car. In almost 30 years of visiting the city, I’ve never seen it so thoroughly and prodigiously congested.

At Rmb100 per head, the Expo’s ticket income today should approach $20 million. Drinks, food and souvenirs should lift the daily take above $50 million. That’s probably about 0.1% of the total cost of staging the event, including all the new urban infrastructure built to support it, including six new subway lines and a major new airport terminal. It seems money well spent.

On a day like today, Shanghai is an old city exquisitely renewed, a perfect playground for the millions who are converging on the Expo, or strolling its main shopping streets and colonial-era alleyways.

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