Hello! Welcome to this edition of CBN Friday Special. I’m Stephanie Li.
Large heads, dark circles around the eyes, no neck, a pear-shaped body, fat legs, a bulging tummy and short arms.
Giant panda, the iconic black-and-white animal whose natural habitat restricted entirely to China today, is often dubbed a "national treasure” and undoubtedly one of the world's best-loved animals.
Xiang Xiang, the first giant panda naturally bred and raised at Tokyo's Ueno Zoological Gardens in Japan, was finally flown home to China. The 5-year-old female finally departed for China on Tuesday after postponed multiple times due to her huge popularity and the COVID-19 pandemic. Her parents were loaned to Tokyo for breeding research under a deal that the offspring would belong to China.
Japanese panda fans bid teary farewells to their idol, with hundreds of people waited outside the zoo took photos, wiped tears with handkerchiefs and waved at a white truck carrying Xiang Xiang as it slowly drove past them on its way to the airport. Others trooped to Narita International Airport to wave their last goodbyes as a plane carrying Xiang Xiang took off.
“The family of pandas in Japan has brought people infinite joy and left them with fond memories," a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Japan said on Tuesday, adding that giant pandas, a national treasure in China, had carried friendship and goodwill to the broader Japanese society.
The last public viewing of Xiang Xiang on Sunday was limited to 2,600 lucky ones who won their tickets in an extremely competitive lottery of more than half a million applicants. Her "true love fans" had queued up for hours to win the lottery.
In the queue waiting to buy the commemorative stamps, some people wore masks with giant panda pictures, some were carrying bags with giant panda patterns, some were covered in panda accessories, and some were holding giant panda dolls in their arms. Whether it was a gray-haired man or a babbling kid, they expressed love for giant pandas in their own way.
Why has Xiang Xiang become such a superstar in Japan?
On Oct. 28, 1972, a pair of giant pandas, Kang Kang and his partner Lan Lan, arrived at Ueno Zoo as a gift from China to commemorate the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries, sparking an unprecedented panda craze in Japan.
The annual number of visitors to the zoo, which stood at around 4 million before the giant pandas' arrival, soared to a record high of 9.2 million in 1973.
Despite strained political ties between Japan and China in recent years, pandas have connected people in both countries and contributed to the friendship, Japanese fans say. The Chinese Embassy called them "the cutest messengers of friendship".
According to the embassy, cooperation in wildlife conservation has been the epitome of friendly exchanges between China and Japan. And as this year marks the 45th anniversary of the conclusion of the Sino-Japanese Treaty of Peace and Friendship, the love for giant pandas is expected to drive more mutually beneficial collaboration between the countries.
Similar was the craze in the United States where some 70,000 people lined up to welcome the first two pandas there in 1972. The euphoria had not died down one bit in 50-odd years.
On April 16, 1972, following former US president Richard Nixon's historic visit to China with first lady Pat Nixon, 18-month-old giant pandas Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing arrived at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and were taken by police escort to the National Zoo in Washington, DC. During the visit, China promised that two giant pandas would be sent to the US. Nixon reciprocated by sending China a pair of musk oxen.
When the National Zoo presented the bears, it declared April 20 to be "Panda Day". Twenty thousand people, including Pat Nixon, saw the pandas from China, who have captured the hearts of people in the United States.
What followed at the zoo in the nation's capital were huge crowds and pandemonium: both of which continue to this day at US zoos with giant pandas. The following Sunday, 75,000 people went to the National Zoo and waited in a line going back hundreds of meters to catch a glimpse of the bears. They continued to be the National Zoo's top attraction until Ling-Ling died in 1992, followed by Hsing-Hsing seven years later.
This exchange was seen as so successful it inspired British Prime Minister Edward Heath to ask for a panda loan during his 1974 visit to China. Chia-Chia and Ching-Ching arrived at their new digs, the London Zoo, a few weeks later.
The gift of the placid, black-and-white bears was part of China's long-standing tradition of panda diplomacy that began during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) when Empress Wu Zetian sent a pair of pandas to the Japanese emperor.
Although pandas used to be gifts sent to friendly nations to carry the torch of friendship, the tradition saw a significant shift in 1984, when China amended it’s panda protocols. The Chinese government announced in 1982 that it would stop giving pandas to foreign countries since the number of pandas continued to fall. Moving forward, the animals would only be sent out on 10-year loans, would require payment of a standard annual fee with a portion of the fees generated by these agreements plowed back into panda conservation and research. And China decreed that all cubs birthed from loaned pandas were Chinese citizens, regardless of place of birth, which are transferred back after a couple years.
Yet their rarity abroad means they remain a prized get for any zoo. In preparation for Sihai and Jingjing’s arrival, the Qatari government built a lavish air-conditioned pavilion for their exclusive use, with plans to open it in time for the influx of visitors brought by the World Cup. It’s further proof, if any was needed, that no one conducts diplomacy quite like a panda. In fact, then Chinese ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai wrote in a 2013 op-ed published in the Washington Post, “there are actually two Chinese ambassadors in Washington: me and the panda cub at the National Zoo.”
How does the cutest animal ambassador work their economic magic?
With an instantly recognizable image, the panda is so much more than an endangered bamboo-eating bear. Adored by kids and adults the world over it has been adopted as a symbol for conservation organizations and has proved to be a merchandiser's dream by inspiring cuddly toy sales by the billions.
Researchers at Oxford investigated the intangible economic value pandas bring to international political relationships with China in a paper published in the journal, Environmental Practice. It's a dynamic closely related to the Chinese concept of “guanxi”, a term used to describe personal relationships and an emphasis on trust and loyalty highly valued in Chinese society. "When China loans a panda," explains lead author Kathleen Buckingham, "they're in some ways accepting the host nation into their 'inner circle'."
Pandas are often used to "seal the deal and signify a bid for a long and prosperous relationship," says Buckingham. "If a panda is given to the country, it does not just signify the closing of a deal - they have entrusted an endangered, precious animal to the country; it signifies in some ways a new start to the relationship."
The strength of these international bonds run deeper than meets the eye. Over the past decade, the team found there has been a clear relationship between overseas panda loans from China and trade deals for valuable resources and technology. Shortly after Scotland's Edinburgh Zoo received its pandas in 2011, claim the researchers, trade deals were signed for renewable energy technology, fish, and vehicles, injecting billions of dollars into the local economy. As a sign of the fortuitous trend, Scottish exports to China have almost doubled over the past half-decade.
The international politics are intriguing, but zoos play a different game. While a "panda loan" signifies China's faith in future cooperation with a country, the zoos themselves aren't making multi-billion dollar trade and investment deals. Panda loans carry an annual fee of about $1 million. Moreover, the price tag for building habitable enclosures for them is an up-front cost of seven or eight figures. There are also various unpredictable additions such as a conservation fee, running some $400,000, to be paid to China if pandas give birth; and regardless of climate, zoos have to come up with 11-16 kg of bamboo per panda per day for the picky eaters.
This sort of undertaking is a lot for an individual zoo to shoulder on its own. So while a panda is certainly a badge of pride for host countries, how do they affect the zoo's bottom line? Luckily, visitors' fascination with the cuddly creatures tends to cover their costs and then some. The National Zoo in Washington, DC, for example, estimates a $1.2 million payoff over their decade hosting the pandas. Even more if there are cubs. "A panda cub would be a conservation superstar, attracting millions of visitors at up to ￡16 a head.”
Merchandise – not just entrance tickets which are sometimes augmented by a "Panda tax" – are a boon the zoos. “Kids can take home little plushes, panda backpacks," says Megan Winokur, publicist for Zoo Atlanta. They even have "panda toasters that put the face of a panda on every piece of toast that you put in there.”
It is fair to say that the giant panda is the best four-legged diplomat from China. Wherever it goes, it receives a warm welcome and spreads friendship. A popular joke on social networking sites goes that the panda best represents cross-cultural harmony and inclusiveness because the bamboo-loving diplomats is "black, white, and Asian”.
For thousands of years, the Chinese people have been encountering all kinds of cultures, some peacefully, some not so. But they have all been met with the same open, inclusive nature.
The panda is also representative of Chinese culture.It has a high profile overseas like the hero of the blockbuster movie Kung Fu Panda. And remember Bing Dwen Dwen, the panda wearing a full-body shell made of ice? It is the mascot of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics who became an overnight sensation sought after by people. Like the cute animal, China, too, is inclusive and extends a warm welcome to all friends. It is the only civilization that has, uninterruptedly, evolved for 5,000 years.
新中国成立后，海外的“大熊猫热”始终热度不减，赠送国外的熊猫为中国外交增添了重彩浓墨的一笔。1972年尼克松总统访华之际，赠送大熊猫作为重要议题由中美领导人敲定，后由当时的“第一夫人”帕特?尼克松（ Pat Nixon）亲自主持官方接收仪式，同时美国将两头麝香牛作为答谢赠送给了中国。
21世纪后，中国开启了与海外合作研究模式的“熊猫外交”。截至2017年10月，我国与全球12个国家的14个动物园建立了大熊猫长期合作研究关系，共有40只中国籍大熊猫（含出生幼崽）生活在海外。同时，中国政府通过保护大熊猫赢得全球声誉。海外的专业组织盛赞中国政府的野生动物保护工作。世界野生动物基金会（ WWF）副主席赞扬中国政府：“中国在大熊猫栖息地重建、拓展和新栖息地建设方面的工作非常出色，中国树立了杰出的榜样——只要政府致力于保护动物，就能发生奇迹。”2016年9月4日，国际自然保护联盟（ IUCN）宣布大熊猫从“濒危”变成“易危”，同时充分肯定了中国政府的努力；世界野生动物基金会则称赞中国政府保护大熊猫工作“了不起”。
Executive Editor: Sonia YU
Editor: LI Yanxia
Host: Stephanie LI
Writer: Stephanie LI
Sound Editor: Stephanie LI
Graphic Designer: ZHENG Wenjing, LIAO Yuanni
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