The Chinese Fascination With Our Panda Fascination

Americans’ obsession with the furry creature is “almost impossible to believe,” according to one Chinese newspaper:

This was no passing remark: The Dec. 4 article in the Communist Party paper Beijing Youth Daily stood out among China’s sometimes shoddily-researched, state-run media with its convincing,sourced points. The paper noted that Chinese pandas on loan to the zoo in Washington, D.C. have drawn visitors from around the country, and that even frequent treks to see the pandas at the zoo “could not satisfy the demand” of the American people, some of whom watch the adorable symbols of US-China friendship online via a newly-installed Giant Panda Cam. Pandas “easily find their way into the pages of major,mainstream U.S. papers,” wrote the paper with evident amazement, “on their birthdays, 100-day celebrations, or even when they get headaches.”

America’s panda obsession – US-based news agency UPI reported the then-unnamed BaoBao’s uneventful first check-up on Aug. 25 – has long baby-pandafascinated and bewildered Chinese people. In Feb. 2010, the major news site China Youth Online reported that Chinese found it “hard to understand” why fans in the United States were “brokenhearted” over the return to China of a giant panda named Tai Shan. Villagers living just miles from Tai Shan’s new home in central Sichuan province, the article pointed out, did not care: One of the bear’s new neighbors told China Youth Online that despite his proximity to the panda center, he had only seen the animals on television, explaining, “They have nothing to do with my life.” In an attempt to explain foreigners’ fixation with China’s national symbol, the article observed that pandas are objectively “adorable,” and also that the online broadcast of Tai Shan’s birth may have led its many US viewers to feel a connection to the cub.

(Photo of the National Zoo’s newly named panda cub “Bao Bao” by Abby Wood)