Panda-mania rocks Taiwan
By Ralph Jennings
Local TV stations announced the arrival of the two giant pandas from China with the rolling headline: “We’re coming!” TV anchors working the story have given viewers across Taiwan every detail imaginable about the four-year-old pandas — from the fruit and corn buns they love to eat to hopes they will mate at the Taipei zoo and produce a cub.
Michael Turton, a widely read English-language blogger in Taiwan, said China had scored a public relations coup by donating the pandas to its political rival across the Taiwan Strait. “Pandas are so non-threatening … They’re so cute and they’re so widely accepted all over the world as a symbol of China. It’s very successful.”
Not long ago, the pandas would probably have flown to Taiwan via Hong Kong. But since Taiwan’s pro-China President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May, once icy ties have warmed and the pandas flew direct from China, courtesy of direct daily air links that took effect last week.
Merchandise of the two pandas — whose names said together mean “unite” — has been a big hit in Taiwan. At the Taipei airport, softball-sized ceramic images of the pandas sell for $100 in the departure terminal. At shops in the city, stuffed pandas or panda mobile phone ornaments are on sale. Taipei’s zoo, where Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan will be shown to the public after a month in quarantine, is also stocking up on toys with as many as 30,000 people expected to walk through the pandas’ garden-like hillside enclosure each day.
Do you think the gift is a publicity stunt or shows China really wants better relations with Taiwan?