Panda-mania rocks Taiwan

December 23, 2008

By Ralph Jennings

Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan arrived in a city gripped by panda-mania today. You would think David Beckham or Tom Cruise had just flown into Taipei.

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.

Communist officials in China hope the pandas will help people in Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China wants to take back into its fold, see Beijing in a more positive light.

Do you think the gift is a publicity stunt or shows China really wants better relations with Taiwan?


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My wife is Taiwanese, and she says the pandas are not welcome. She’s quite upset that Ma Ying-jeou didn’t consult public opinion in making this decision.

If China wanted “better relations,” they would remove some of the 1,400 or so missiles they have targeting us. If it’s a “publicity stunt,” it will only work with the aid of propaganda pieces like the one above which inaccurately describes the atmosphere as “panda-mania” [sic] or the one I just heard on CNN which takes China’s POV in describing this as an act of “goodwill.” Here’s a screenshot:

In stark contrast to the feeling of the Michael Turton quote you used, here’s what he said about the pandas on his own blog:
– – –
As a friend from the environmental movement pointed out to me today, the Taipei Zoo’s budget for the Capitulationist Raccoons is NT$37 million; for the critically endangered Formosan Black bear, unique to Taiwan; just NT $100,000 (it was voted the Zoo’s most popular animal last year). For studies of Formosan Black Bears in the wild, the government gives just $NT 1 million annually. The Taipei Zoo’s 2005 proposal for the panda budget is online here; it even includes sucking up $$ from local businesses to establish a conservation fund for animals China already has a large conservation program to serve.

It’s a very Chinese gift somehow, that gets Taiwan to pay to starve its own resources for the sake of China. Indeed a perfect metaphor for Taiwan-China relations.
– – –

Kinda gives a different impression from what’s quoted above.

I wish Reuters and Ralph Jennings would stop publishing trash “news” like this.

Tim Maddog,
A Taiwan Matters blogger

Posted by Tim Maddog | Report as abusive

Tim needs a hug, maybe from a panda.

Posted by Panda Man | Report as abusive

The pandas are the Olsen twins of reunification: cute, shallow, and high-maintenance.

Posted by Michael Turton | Report as abusive

The pandas arrived in Taiwan like movie stars, celebrities, as the Reuters story reports. But what they really are are two “Trojan horses” sent in to pacify the Taiwanese people before communist China invades in 2015. This has all been set up in advance. But I don’t think most Taiwanese people are easily fooled. They know a real panda from a panderer. These pandas now in Taiwan will likely die of poisoning from independence protesters.

Posted by Allen Chiang | Report as abusive

Do you think the gift is a publicity stunt or shows China really wants better relations with Taiwan? ANSWER: Long story short: BOTH!

Posted by Allen Chiang | Report as abusive

Everyone knows that China has decided that they will never give any Panda to foreign countries as a gift after 2007. So why did they tell the reporters that the Pandas to Taiwan are gifts and any future Panda cub will remain Taiwan’s property.

Since when did the Chinese govt become so friendly and non-materialistic? Would all of you believe that it is for nothing but “goodwill” as the Chinese govt calls it?

Another thing that makes me frustrated about foreign news articles about Taiwan is that they don’t really report how the China-friendly President Ma of Taiwan and his cabinet are enforcing economic and foreign policies without going through the Congress and are laying their hands on the media, police system and judicial system!
All these facts show that Ma is not a person with democracy at heart.

To many Taiwanese, he has become a completely different politician than the one they elected. Now, he has set his mind in getting dependent on China. To let Taiwan become accepted by China, he has sacrificed military and public safety of the Taiwanese people, oppressed the opposition parties, started political profiling, etc. Most crazy of all, he ignored the interests of nearly 70% of the Taiwanese, who demand a democratic society with rule of laws and not a colony of China!

Posted by taiwaneseAbroad | Report as abusive

I came from China and married my Taiwanese husband in US. I feel we should be a little less political and have more harmony. Pandas are rare animals. Let’s just enjoy their presence.

Posted by Diana | Report as abusive

How ’bout that “panda mania,” eh?

Here are actual *first day* figures for visitors to new animals at the Taipei Muzha Zoo:

* Penguins: 96,328 visitors
* Koalas: 87,613 visitors
* Pandas: 18,057 visitors

Here’s a screenshot showing where I got those numbers:

I’ve been reading that there’s a limit of 22,000 visitors per day for the pandas (a much lower number than the “30,000” mentioned in the above article), but the actual number of visitors is about 18% shy of even that lower figure.

“Panda mania” — ha!

Tim Maddog,
A Taiwan Matters blogger

Posted by Tim Maddog | Report as abusive