The breathtaking height of adventure

By Huang Zhiling and Li Ning | China Daily | Updated: 2023-01-27 10:33
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A panda quenches his thirst in the Baoxing County Giant Panda Cultural Publicity and Education Center in Sichuan. [PHOTO BY LIU LANYING/FOR CHINA DAILY]

In July 2006, Sichuan's giant panda habitat was included in the World Natural Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Covering 9,245 sq km, the habitat includes Baoxing.

The giant panda species has lived on earth for around 8 million years. But the West only learned about it in 1869 thanks to a French missionary trying to convert people in China to Catholicism.

Jean Pierre Armand David (1826-1900) was born in Espelette, France. A Vincentian priest and a naturalist with an extensive knowledge of ornithology, zoology and botany, he started working in the Dengchigou Catholic Church in Baoxing in March 1869. Soon afterward, he was invited to tea at a local hunter's home where he saw the skin of a giant panda.

Suspecting it to be a new animal species, he had the hunter capture a live panda, made a specimen and mailed it to the Museum of Natural History's Henri Milne-Edwards in Paris. In 1870, Edwards published a paper declaring the panda to be a new species.

The specimen, kept at the Museum of Natural History, aroused Westerners' initial interest in the bear unique to China.

The church, where David worked and lived, is a blend of Chinese courtyard and Gothic architecture. Located deep in the mountains, it draws in visitors and is connected to David's hometown.

To mark the 100th anniversary of his death, some 40 people from Espelette led by its mayor Andre Darraidou went there for the first time in November 2000. Espelette and Baoxing established ties as sister cities.

Darraidou visited Baoxing four times before he passed away at 75 in 2019, says Sun Qian, former vice-mayor of Ya'an which administers Baoxing.

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