A Brief History of “Panda Diplomacy”

The Giant Panda is today one of China’s most famous faces. Having usurped the traditional dragon, pandas seem to be today’s Chinese symbol, and are considered a “national treasure”. Pandas have played an unwitting but crucial role in diplomatic relations.

The history of “panda diplomacy” can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). As according to Japanese royal yearbook, the Chinese emperor sent the Japanese ruler two “white bears” and 70 pieces of their fur in 685. The two “white bears” referred to were pandas.

In modern times, pandas have continued to play important diplomatic roles. From 1957 to 1982, China sent a total of 23 pandas to nine countries, all as gifts. Since 1982, China no longer “gives” pandas, instead we “lend” them to overseas zoos for joint research. Each panda lives overseas for 10 years in general, and wherever they give births, the newborns are considered Chinese “citizens”. The only exceptions are the Hongkong, Macau, and Taiwan. In 2008, the Chinese mainland sent Taiwan a pair of pandas called Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, whose names when combined mean “family reunion”.

As a cultural symbol of China, pandas have numerous fans worldwide, and some of them have become quite famous.

In 1972, after US president Richard Nixon’s visit to China, the Chinese government sent two pandas to the Washington-based Smithsonian National Zoo. Upon their arrival, there was an audience of 8,000 to greet them, and the number of visitors exceeded a million within a month.

In 2009, a female panda in Thailand called Lin Hui gave birth, and 22 million people participated in choosing a name for it. At last, the local zoo chose Lin Bing, combining her mother’s family name and the local Ping River. A local TV station even opened a 24-hour live broadcast program of the panda family, the audience rating of which ranked the third in Thailand that year.

In March 2013, when two pandas called Da Mao and Er Shun arrived in Toronto Pearson International Airport, then Canadian premier Stephen Harper and his wife went to the airport to welcome them. They even enjoyed the Canadian national anthem.

After Huan Huan, a giant panda in Beauval Zoo, France, gave birth on August 4, Brigitte Macron, France’s first lady, confirmed that she will be the newborn cub’s godmother. This time, the newborn panda has aroused a whirlwind in France.

The giant panda lives in a few mountain ranges in central China, mainly in Sichuan, but also in neighbouring Shaanxi and Gansu. A trip to Sichuan is incomplete without a visit to one of the reserves, where even the most apathetic of visitors will leave with a smile on their face.

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