World / Ming the Giant Panda

Ming a pioneer of panda diplomacy

By Chris Peterson (China Daily Europe) Updated: 2015-10-09 21:27

Ming a pioneer of panda diplomacy

The cover of an illustrated book by Chinese author Chiang Yee, publish in 1944 by Penguin Books.

The first giant panda cub to come to Britain, Ming unwittingly became the spearhead of what later became known as panda diplomacy.

Between 1958 and 1982, China used the gift of 23 giant pandas to nine different countries as a means of establishing friendly relations.

Included in that total were Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, a pair of pandas given to the United States after President Richard Nixon's ground-breaking trip to China, which led to the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two powers.

Britain also got in on the act – Prime Minister Edward Heath requested two pandas during a trip to Beijing in 1974, and Chia-Chia and Ching-Ching duly took up residence in ZSL London's care.

By 1984, things had changed, and giant pandas became the subject of a loan programme. Recipient zoos paid as much as $1 million a year for a stay of 10 years, with the proviso that any cubs born were to be the property of the Chinese state.

Recently Tian-Tian, Edinburgh Zoo's resident female panda, was thought to be pregnant after her third bout of artificial insemination, but in August the zoo said it was believed she had lost the cub.

Sichuan Province in China is home to the giant panda, and conservation efforts there are considered to be a success story.

Last year the World Wildlife Fund for Nature said on its website page devoted to giant pandas that there were an estimated 1,864 pandas living in the bamboo-strewn mountains of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, closely watched and protected against poachers. A further 300 are living in breeding centres and zoos, mainly in China.

The people of Sichuan, proud of the panda and its links to the rest of the world, decided to donate a life-size statue of Ming to ZSL London, to mark the 70th anniversary of the World War in which she played a part.

In addition, a roadshow of 20 smaller panda statues, painted by young artists in China, will go on display at various visitor attractions across the UK.

Another group of pandas in various poses, blank this time, will be painted by London-based art students and auctioned off for charity.

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