Illustration of the number of pandas offered as gift from the China government from 1941 to 1982.
Beijing artist Zhao Bandi initiates a boycott against the recent huge box office hit The Kung Fu Panda 2, accusing the movie is a "cultural aggression" from America and it damages the image of the nation’s treasure giant panda. But what Zhao and his followers are unaware of is, the damage to the lovable pandas is actually from China.
Panda diplomacy began in the Republican period
The Giant panda exclusively habitat in China. These chunky black-and-white animals are liked by people from all over the world. Its use as a diplomatic tool began in the Republican period, when Song Meiling, Song Geling presented two pandas to America for their support of the China Joint Commission on Refugees (中国难民联合委员会) and thus began the "Panda Diplomacy". In 1946, the government of Republic China presented another panda to the Great Britain government. Thereafter, giant panda became the official national present.
Panda diplomacy, Chinese feature
From its establishment to the year of 1982, the government of People’s Republic of China started to present giant panda to friendly countries or countries it wants to establish diplomatic relationship with. There was a time when panda was sent or not to a country become the diplomatic barometer between China and other countries. As the most powerful communist country at the time, the Soviet Union had received panda as a gift from China twice. From 1965 to 1980, China had offer giant panda to North Korea 5 times. The most sensational panda diplomacy had been the two pandas China presented to the USA after Nixon’s 1972 visit to China. To the year of 1982, 24 giant pandas had been presented to 9 countries from China.
Most panda agents of diplomacy died in foreign countries
Panda has a very poor reproductive performance and a rather high requirement for its habitat. 70% of male giant pandas don’t have the desire of mating and 90% of them are sterile. As the agent of diplomacy, giant pandas are forced to adapt to various climate, food and natural environment while they could have enjoyed their peaceful life in Sichuan province, China. According to statistics, among the 24 pandas that has been sent to other countries, few died of natural causes, but instead, most of them died of diseases in digestive system. Only one panda in Germany and the other 3 in Mexico had offspring that survived.
A lucrative business: panda rental
From 1982, China stopped to offer pandas for free due to the decreasing numbers of pandas. But the panda diplomacy has left panda as the image ambassador of China. Panda appears in stamps, animations, bond and mascot in the Asia Games and many other occasions. The commercial value of the giant pandas surged at the same time. When 2 pandas in the Los Angeles zoo were lent to San Francisco zoo for performance in a commercial tour, the "Panda rental" business started. Pandas are rented to zoos overseas. Many organizations fell over each other to lend pandas for money. According to the South Weekend, each rental of giant panda can bring in several hundred thousand dollars.
Overseas zoo is not the paradise for giant panda
In mid 1980s when the Sino-US relationship was at its peak, America experienced a "panda fever". Americans will drive miles to watch the expensive panda show. Zoo could make tens millions of revenue within the 2 or 3 month rental period. Pandas are forced to perform all the time and thus always missed their mating time which is a short 10 days in a year. Giant pandas were also trained to perform with the iron chains and fire rings. The famous zoologist George Beals Schaller recalled that, Mexico also joined the panda rental business after the panda they received from China successfully gave birth to 4 baby pandas.
1987 July 31st, in San Diego zoo, USA. A giant panda was tamed to play acrobatics for the tourists.
Hunting for giant panda become business
For some officials of the certain departments in the Chinese government, "panda rental" means more than just a huge exchange revenue but also free trip abroad. The panda rental business was operated by the China Zoo Association and zoos with giant pandas all made a fortune out of it. Forest department also want to share this lucrative business. So they hunt wild giant pandas and send them abroad, which is no better than the poachers. The money made from this panda rental business was used to build new buildings, repair roads and the construction of infrastructure, instead of improving the pandas’ inhabit. With the chaotic management over the rental business from these two organizations, the exact number of giant pandas rented and hunted is unknown. Close breeding also happened. During this period of time, number of giant pandas in foreign countries reduced sharply. "Panda rental" business is the major motive behind the hunting and capture of giant pandas.
Foreign animal protection organization force the "panda rental" to a stop
From late 80s to early 90s, many environmental concern groups have noticed the harm that was done to giant pandas from the commercial tours. They began to require China to offer certificates to prove that the panda was not illegally hunted and the revenue from rental should be used in the protection of the giant pandas. Under pressure from environmental organization, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stopped to issue entry visa for giant pandas from 1988.
Till then, the practice of panda rental almost disappeared. But they find a new way to send giant panda abroad, in the name of "Corporate study of giant panda". A pair of healthy and fertile giant pandas would be sent to other countries for a ten-year term study corporation. The offspring of this pair of pandas would be sent back to China. The foreign country has to pay altogether 20 million dollars to China. Under this new name, two pandas were sent to a zoo in Japan in 1994, another pair to Atlanta, USA in 1999. So far, more than 30 pandas (including the babies) have been rented in countries like USA, Japan, Austria, Thailand and so on, accounting for 10% of the captive giant pandas worldwide.
The giant panda is still threatened
A new name for the rental business, the rental period extended from a few months to ten years, the "giant pandas for rent" are still facing the same problems. Female giant pandas are very particular about their mate. Worse yet, the artificial incrimination have a very low success rate. All these placed great challenge to the foreign zoos. "Ling-ling", the giant panda sent to Japan had to be sent to Mexico for mating. "Li Wei" and "Chuang-chuang" didn’t have babies yet. Berlin zoo went all the way to China to collect sperm for their female panda. In 2010, 4 pandas that were rented abroad died, two of which died of man miscarriage. "Long-long" in Japan die from sperm collection under anesthetic.
1957, Ping-ping, the giant panda was sent to Soviet Union as a special gift. But because of the climate difference and the lack of experienced zookeepers, Ping-ping only lived 3 years before he died. Later "An-an" another panda was sent to Soviet Union.
A Bao in Kong Fu Panda is loved by his master and friends. But in reality, giant panda is used as a political tool and has to live alone in foreign land and die there. Instead of so-called "cultural aggression", people like Zhao Bandi should think more about what we exactly have done to our nation’s treasure.