China Takes Back Its Panda, in Secret Soft Power Plot

On this episode of china uncensored, it don’t matter if you’re black or white. Unless you’re a panda. Then its pandamonium. Hi, welcome to china uncensored, i’m your host chris chappell.

You know i’ve been hosting this show for four years. And people often ask me, “chris, do you ever have to deal with interference from china when making the show?” And the answer is, I do.

The first year of making the show was great! And then, three years ago, this little monster stole my limelight. No, that’s not a naked mole rat.

It’s bao bao, the baby panda. Ever since bao bao was born, she’s been on a non-stop panda cam that people have been watching instead of me on china uncensored. Sometimes people say that pandas get too much attention, right? Yes, thank you! I mean, why do people like pandas so much? Oh look, she can hardly walk without falling down into a cute little tumble.

How adorable. Oh look, she’s got her head stuck in a box. Look at me, everyone! I’m so freaking special. And now, bao bao’s getting a free flight from washington, d.C.

To china. With even more legroom than first class. That thing is six and a half feet long. And honestly, i’d rather eat bamboo than most airline food.

Stupid pandas. Although I guess since she’s flying federal express, you could call it “panda express.” Oh, they even beat me to that joke! Honestly.

Everyone’s all like, pandas are so great, pandas are endangered, pandas are sooo cute! Fine. They’re cute. But there’s a bunch of them, and only only one of me! Wait a minute.

Why is a panda born in the us flying to china in the first place? So we knew before she was even born that one day she would have to go back to be a part of the breeding population in china.

Oh right, it has to do with a little something called panda diplomacy. You may not know this, but every panda in the world, even one born in the united states, belongs to the chinese government.

So in the rare instance a panda couple in a foreign zoo has a baby, that panda cub has to be sent back to china before it turns 4.

This panda control is a way for china to spread its soft power. And it actually dates back to the tang dynasty, when wu zetian, china’s first and only female emperor, sent a pair of pandas to the japanese emperor, thereby locking down a peaceful relationship between china and japan for all time.

I think. But the modern day incarnation of panda diplomacy began in the 1950s. China gave 23 pandas to 9 different countries in just three decades. The highest profile being two given by mao zedong to richard nixon after his historic visit to china in 1972.

But then chinese officials realized, why give pandas as gifts when you can just rent them out instead. Yes, now other countries can rent a panda from china, with a maximum lease of 10 years.

Or 50,000 miles. And the terms of agreement on those things is killer: you need to pay the chinese government one million dollars per year for each pair of pandas. Plus, if they have a baby, you have to pay the chinese government a baby tax of $600,000— not including the expenses related to actually getting the pandas to breed, since they have the libido of 100-year-old sea turtles.

Then there’s the cost of round-the-clock care, bamboo, and web-hosting for your panda cam. And if a panda dies in your care, you’ll owe the chinese government another $400,000.

That’s crazy! According to the guardian, having a panda can be ruinous, say some zoos, and could even take money away from other conservation work. Pandas are actively making the world a worse place.

So why all the fuss? Well, there are only about 1,800 pandas left in the wild, according to the world wrestling federation, or whatever. Frankly, I think the chinese government should be paying us to take care of their pandas.

But the chinese government has never listened to my policy suggestions before, so they’re probably not going to start now.

So how did this whole panda cash farm thing get started? For that, we can thank former chinese paramount leader, deng xiaoping. In the late 1970s, as he began moving china’s farms and industry towards capitalism, he decided that pandas should be put to use for the nation’s economy too.

Little known fact, by the way: instead of panda diplomacy, deng xiaoping initially wanted to use dragon diplomacy. But while dragons were warm, they were not so cuddly. Also, for some reason, deng found it hard to ship them to zoos overseas.

Sorry dragon express. You’ll just have to stay a restaurant. But anyway, china’s rent-a-panda program really took off in 2008. During the sichuan earthquake, china’s main panda sanctuary was devastated, and all 60 pandas living there needed a new home.

And it's much more profitable to loan pandas out to foreign countries than to care for them in china, anyway! So profit is one motive for panda diplomacy, but there are at least two more.

Another one is, obviously, diplomacy. Pandas are used on one hand as a way to sort of sweeten the pot for countries “that have signed free-trade agreements with china, or with nations supplying china with natural resources and advanced technologies.” And on the other hand, if a country crosses the chinese regime, it could affect future panda opportunities.

But pandas are not just a reward or threat. They’re also used as part of china’s soft power. Propa-panda. Like the two pandas exchanged with taiwan back in 2008, tuan tuan and yuan yuan.

Together, their names mean " reunion" in chinese. Hmm. I feel like there might be some kind of message there. The two had a baby panda back in 2013. But because taiwan sent their own rare animals to chinese zoos in exchange for the pandas, in this special case, the baby doesn’t have to return to mainland china.

Until, of course, everything in taiwan returns to mainland china. But don’t underestimate the soft power of pandas. Pandas, you see, always get good press.

People love watching them. In 2013, state-run china network television even launched ipanda. Com, where you can watch a 24/7 multi-camera stream of pandas. Scratching their butts, apparently. Stupid pandas being cute.

And that’s the problem with pandas. They’re too warm and cuddly. Just like the chinese communist party. Or rather, how it wants to be seen by the rest of the world.

And that’s their game: how could you dislike anything about china when their mascot is the panda? So I say, if the chinese government wants america to send bao bao to china, good riddance! She’s just a symbol of how the chinese regime uses pandas for profit, international arm-twisting, and soft power.

Soft, cuddly power. I mean sure, we’ve watched bao bao grow up from a cub, into a spirited, independent panda that made us laugh, and showed us what it was like to play again.

Now she’s going off to make a new life for herself and to have cubs of her own. I’m going to miss bao bao. Chris! We have to finish the episode! Um, well, this is awkward.

So, uh, what do you think of bao bao? And china’s panda diplomacy? Leave your comments below. And please, consider supporting the show on patreon, so we can raise funds for our very own panda.

Or at least make enough so we can eat lunch at panda express. Thanks for watching this episode of china uncensored. Once again, that was chris chappell.

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