China’s modernization and rise is commonly understood as a key factor that will shape future world order. This article examines narratives at Expo 2010 Shanghai China as an instance of the local constitution of this future world. Such imaginations of China and/in the world actively create the future, through assumptions about time and space that structure the possible imaginations of China, the World, and their interrelation. This article examines how the technological and conceptual innovations that play out at the Expo draw on two common cosmologies, the ‘unit-based’ cosmology of the international state system and a Chinese ‘holistic’ imaginary of tianxia (all-under-heaven). It shows how these two cosmologies order universal/particular, time/space, and self/other through Beijing’s ‘harmonious world’ policy. It argues that the two cosmologies are not mutually exclusive, but are deployed at the Expo in ways that reinforce one another by ordering spatial difference through teleological time. The effect is a story of China and the World where others are not different; they are just behind. This is a problem because the reduction of spatial difference to place in a historical queue makes it difficult to imagine plural futures, as opposed to The Future already inscribed in the story.
The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, China Information, 26 (2), 2012, © SAGE Publications Ltd, 2012 by SAGE Publications Ltd at the China Information page: http://cin.sagepub.com/ on SAGE Journals Online: http://online.sagepub.com/