The panda did not become an official symbol of the PRC in a debate over worthy animal emblems, but emerged as a representation of China in various contexts by fulfilling specific needs of the nation. The giant panda became broadly relevant to human society when it was deemed a scientifically interesting animal. International research on pandas has probed most every aspect of the animal’s being. The Chinese government’s persistent endorsement of wide-ranging scientific work on the giant panda over the course of PRC history reflects the tremendous value the Chinese state has placed on the panda as an animal. What is most striking about the giant panda historically is not its curiosity as an oddity in the animal kingdom, but that it stands apart as a cute national symbol. Unlike the more commonly majestic and intimidating choices of eagle or lion, the panda elicits affection. The panda’s gentle allure has been central to its transformation into a powerful political tool. The traits that inspire anthropomorphism have enabled the panda to hold a special position as a diplomat, not only between China and the rest of the world, but also between the human and animal world.
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