I cannot disguise my excitement with the birth of the Giant Panda cub born this week at Ueno Zoo. The new cub, whose sex is still unknown, was born to the very happy (well, let’s assume) parents, Shin Shin, the momma, and Ri Ri, the papa. Now let’s think about this event from both a political and cultural perspective. I first jumped to the conclusion that the Chinese government would want us to reach. A Chinese spokesperson said, “The giant pandas are messengers of friendship. We hope that people-to-people sentiment and overall relations between China and Japan can be promoted because of the birth of the cub.” My immediate reaction was an enthusiastic yes. Further, Shin Shin and Ri Ri were delivered to Tokyo just one month before 3.11. What a powerful symbol of Japan’s renewal and rebirth with the first Giant Panda cub born at Ueno Zoo since 1988. I do know that this birth will be a crowd pleaser and a tourist boon for Tokyo.
On the other hand, when I use my more jaundiced political eye, this birth marks yet another achievement for China in its worldwide program of Rent-a-Panda. According to my professor friend Gary Rawnsley of the University of Leeds, these panda “gifts” come at a high price, especially after cubs are born. Dr. Rawnsley says that to rent a panda it costs a zoo up to 1 million dollars per Giant Panda and $500,000 for any cubs born to the rented pandas which automatically belong to China + the infrastructure costs. He adds, “It is a very expensive message of friendship.” That said, Gary quickly realized my great enthusiasm for the birth of the baby cub and he added to my Facebook wall: “But they are still cute, and I still queued to see the pandas in Taipei zoo the last time I was there .”
So do you have pandamonium? Would you stand in a long line to congratulate the new parents?