A logo on products ranging from chopsticks and toilet paper to cell phones and automobiles, the panda is one of the most ubiquitous images in China and throughout the world. Yet the panda holds little notable historical significance in China. Although it has existed in the territory of present-day China since the Pliocene epoch, its widespread popularity there is not only recent, but almost sudden.
In Panda Nation, E. Elena Songster links the emergence of the giant panda as a national symbol to the development of nature protection in the People’s Republic of China. The panda’s transformation into a national treasure exemplifies China’s efforts in the mid-twentieth century to distinguish itself as a nation through government-directed science and popular nationalism. The story of the panda’s iconic rise offers a striking reflection of China’s recent and dramatic ascent as a nation in global status.
As the use of the panda image to express the nation of China and things Chinese expanded, the panda increasingly became a motivating cause for nature protection policy. Likewise, efforts to protect the panda reinforced its significance as a national symbol. The iconic status of the giant panda expanded during the turbulent Cultural Revolution and skyrocketed when the giant panda became a diplomat to former enemy states. As a friendly face of China, the panda eased foreign relations, expanded scientific and commercial exchanges, and increased in popularity both inside and outside China with every step the country took toward international recognition. This novel work covers the rise of panda conservation in remote regions, as well as the relationship between the local people, their environment, and their nation.