If you have watched the news today (4/11/11) you may have seen that two Giant Pandas have arrived from Chengdu into Edinburgh airport destined for Edinburgh zoo.
It is thought that Pandas were used as instruments of diplomacy as far back as the Tang Dynasty, when Empress Wu Zetian (625–705) sent a pair of pandas to the Japanese emperor. Between 1941 and 1982 China gave 23 pandas to 9 different countries, as mapped in the image below:
There have been pandas sent around the world since, but the most recent event has been the two pandas arriving to Edinburgh zoo on 10 year loan. Tian Tian and Yang Guang are the first pandas to be in the UK for the last 17 years. It is hoped they will generate a lot of interest for Edinburgh Zoo, and costing £600,000 a year (before zoo costs like food etc) I certainly hope they do. I will hopefully be in Edinburgh later next year for the Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference and will definately be scheduling in a visit to the zoo.
If you’re interested in the ways in which Panda’s have been used to forge diplomatic relations between countries I would highly recommend you read Henry Nicholls’s Way of the Panda: The Curious History of China’s Political Animal.