One of China’s giant pandas at the National Zoo in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (AP)

One of China’s giant pandas at the National Zoo in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (AP)

China’s President (left) presents Germany’s leader with two panda bears. (AP)

China’s President (left) presents Germany’s leader with two panda bears. (AP)

A newborn panda is fed at the Chengdu breeding and care center in China. (AP)

A newborn panda is fed at the Chengdu breeding and care center in China. (AP)

Bao Bao, on loan to the U.S., goofs off at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. (AP)

Bao Bao, on loan to the U.S., goofs off at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. (AP)

Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing in 1974. They were gifts from China to the U.S. (AP)

Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing in 1974. They were gifts from China to the U.S. (AP)

Panda Politics

Posted: September 1, 2017

“Pleeeeeease?”

“No!”

“Pleeeeeeaaase?”

“No!”

“What if I give you a cuddly panda? Will you say yes then?”

It’s hard to resist a giant panda. They’re cute. They’re fuzzy. They make you melt. They look like no other bears in the world. No wonder they are national treasures in China!

National leaders know that pandas are a symbol of peace. In fact, something called “panda diplomacy” may have started as early as the seventh century in China. Way back then, Empress Wu Zetian gave a pair of bears to Japan. The custom started up again in 1941. China sent two pandas to the Bronx Zoo in New York to thank the United States for helping China. In the 1950s, leader Mao Zedong sent pandas to other communist countries like North Korea and the Soviet Union. But countries like the United States and Britain were not at peace with Mao Zedong’s China. They didn’t support Communism. So guess what? No more panda bears for them!

That changed in 1972. President Richard Nixon took a trip to China. After 25 years of distrust, the United States and China became friends again. The giant pandas Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling came to live in the United States. Seventy-five thousand people rushed to the zoo to see the bears. The pandas showed up all over magazine covers. Toy-makers made bundles of money with stuffed animal pandas. The United States sent back a thank you gift: a pair of musk oxen named Milton and Matilda. (We don’t know about you, but we’d rather have the pandas!)

In 1984, China changed panda diplomacy. Instead of giving the bears away, they loaned them out for a fee. The United States eventually made a deal with China. They would pay the price for pandas—but only if China used half the money to help pandas survive in the wild.