This article discusses the domestic dimensions of the Shanghai World Expo, its use within Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda and the ethical questions it poses as a place-branding spectacle. As a public relations set piece we find that the Shanghai World Expo remains tied to an ideological narrative that is concerned ultimately not with Shanghai itself but rather with the continuing political legitimacy of the CCP. The Shanghai Expo is therefore less of a place-branding exercise than it is an exercise in the continuous rebranding of the party. The branding of host city Shanghai as the exemplary harmonious city is further problematized by the fact that it has received international criticism for not faithfully modelling the ideals embedded within its better city, better life theme. Considering this problematic through the prism of the Chinese model locality, it can be argued that the experience created by the virtual environment of the Expo site has an exemplary effect in which the model locality becomes an agent of change. Rather than possessing ontological value as a reflection of what the Shanghai of today is, the Expo site possesses normative value in its suggestion of what the Shanghai- indeed the China- of the future is aiming to become. In this way, the branding significance of the Expo for Shanghai is aspirational in that it tells a story of and attaches an identity to an imagined future.