What is your first impression when thinking about China? FOOD? DRAGON? Or... PANDA?
For many Westerners, giant pandas represent wildlife conservation (the WWF uses it as a logo since in 1961) and Kung Fu (comedy animation movies). In China, it is a magnificent national treasure, reflecting the country's gentle nature, uniqueness and ancient culture. The earliest recorded examples of Panda Diplomacy could be traced back to 685 AD, when Queen Wu Zetian gave a pair of giant pandas to Japan.
One of the reasons why China regards pandas as a national treasure is that it is a Chinese specialty. The existing giant panda is a representative of the remains of ancient animals, which is known as the “living fossil”. The other reason is their appearance. Since they are very similar to human babies - fat cheeks, swaying gait, short and flat nose, big eyes – too cute to not fall in love with.
Today, the status of giant pandas has been politicized. The Chinese government believes that they are the most powerful weapon in building “soft power”. Wang Dajun, a wild panda expert at Peking University, said: "In a sense, the giant panda is the luckiest species on earth. But unfortunately, humans want to protect it for their cute faces and political influence rather than scientific reasons."
Giant pandas in China are divided into two subspecies based on the region where they are found -- the Qinling panda and Sichuan panda. While the Qinling panda population is restricted to the Qinling mountain range in the Chinese province of Shaanxi, the Sichuan panda population is found in small patches in the provinces of Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanxi.