Once upon a time, there was a bronze mermaid keeping watch over the harbor of Copenhagen. Beloved by the Danish city’s inhabitants, she was an icon not just of Copenhagen but of the entire kingdom of Denmark.
The Little Mermaid sculpture, created by Edvard Eriksen in 1913 after the character in Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, had been admired by tourists from all over the world. This spring, she was brought to the Shanghai World Expo 2010 as a token of friendship between Denmark and China.
Now the mermaid is the centerpiece of the Danish Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo. So far the Danish Pavilion has drawn more than 5.55 million visitors, tantamount to the total population of Denmark. This far exceeds the original expectation of 3 million visitors by the Danish organizers, Christopher Bo Bramsen, Denmark’s commissioner general to the Shanghai Expo, said.
To see the mermaid “in person” was a highlight for many visitors.
“I never dreamed of seeing the Little Mermaid myself,” said Zha, a 72-year-old retired teacher from Jiangsu Province in east China, who used to tell his middle school students the tale of the Little Mermaid.
In August, 15-year-old Wei Yangchen headed straight to the Danish Pavilion to witness the 97th birthday celebration of the Little Mermaid.
“I admire her for her sacrifice and so I wanted to say happy birthday to her,” Wei told Xinhua.
“I felt sad for the Little Mermaid when I first heard the story from my mother. But now I understand that she sacrificed herself for love and therefore she would not have regretted it.”
In Andersen’s tale, when faced with a choice between killing a prince she loved, or dying a gruesome death herself, the Little Mermaid chooses death.
Maybe it was exactly such a quality that made her the best symbol of her country. Denmark is not a big country. However, what the country lacks in hard numbers, it makes up in terms of high moral standards of its people and their easygoing nature.
Denmark has been constantly ranked as one of the least corrupt places in the world in international surveys.
“The Little Mermaid is the best ambassador that we could have. The Chinese really appreciate Hans Christian Andersen. So it is a big deal that we send the real Little Mermaid to China. It has been noted by China and the world,” Bramsen said.
Bramsen also named two other factors which he thought have contributed to the Danish Pavilion’s success. One is the clear-cut message of a good city life the Danish Pavilion offers, which is very much in tune with the overall theme of the Expo– “Better City, Better Life.”
“Back in 1800, two percent of the world’s population lived in cities. Today, that number is 55 percent. It is important that we make life in cities workable and that people get a good life there,” Bramsen said.
The other Danish pavilion, that of the Danish city Odense, exhibited an interesting approach to the serious subject of improving city life — using bicycles to achieve a better city environment.
“Odense is the birth place of the poet Hans Christian Andersen, and with our presence at the Expo 2010, we wish to show a modern fairy tale of a city, where biking is part of the city’s mobility policy,” Helle Thylkjaer Henriksen, coordinator general for the Odense Pavilion, said.
The Danish Pavilion is also aesthetically unique. The whole pavilion, designed by the architectural firm BIG, is built around an artificial pond, the temporary home of the Little Mermaid.
While other countries might have more spectacular pavilions, the Danish Pavilion is rather approachable, just like the country’s people.
Bramsen said that the Expo has been quite an experience.
“I have a lot of fond memories of this Expo. It has been great working here with this many people, Danes, Chinese and other people from across the world,” Bramsen said.
“As the Expo draws to an end, you can see how much friendship has been developed between the people at the Expo … I must say that we have a fantastic Expo. The administration has done a good job,” Bramsen said.
The cross-cultural experience is what Henriksen likes the most.
“At the Odense Pavilion I met a young girl who studies Hans Christian Andersen and knows a lot of the city of Odense, although she has never been there. It was a nice way of experiencing how two worlds meet and move closer together because of the Expo,” Henriksen said.
As in Andersen’s fairy tale, the Little Mermaid cannot speak about her adventures in a place far from home or even say goodbye to it. In late November, she will go home to keep a watchful eye on Copenhagen harbor from her little perch.
But without doubt, her first journey abroad will be fondly remembered by many.