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Panda papercut

Over the centuries the Giant Panda has been called Pixiu, Mo, Zouyu, Whitebear, Flowery-bear, Bamboo-bear and Iron-eating Animal. China’s oldest poetry, more than 3,000 years old, describes men giving a pelt that seems likely to have been a panda's. Texts from around that time also describe a lumbering black and white animal. Ancient books and histories recorded that giant panda were regarded as mystical, legendary and rare animals and in ancient times they could be found in many places they are not found today such as Henan Province in northern China, Shanxi Province of northwest China, Hubei Province and Hunan Province in central China, the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, Fujian Provinice in South China, Yunnan Province, Guizhou Province, and all the mountainss surrounding the Sichuan Basin.

The famous Chinese historian Sima Qian (145- 86 B.C.) Of the Han Dynasty wrote in “Records of the Historian: Records of the Five Emperors” that 4000 years ago, a head of a tribe called Huangdi, used tamed wild animals to defeat another tribe headed by Yandi at Banquan (now Zhulu County of Henan Province). Among these animals, there were tigers, leopards, bears and Pixiu (Giant Pandas). [Source: Science Museum of China]

In ancient times giant pandas were considered an animal that was brave and mighty as tigers and leopard. For that reason, ancient warriors were compared to Giant Pandas, whose ancient name Pixiu was used to symbolize victory in all wars. In the “Book of Poetry”, compiled in the early years of West Zhou Dynasty (1047 – 772 B.C.) Shang Shu (A High Official in Ancient China) recorded that the skin of the Pixiu (Panda) was given as a tribute to the emperor.

The “Book of Mountains and Seas, a classic of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Period ( 770 to 476 B.C.), the Giant Panda is described as such: “with white and black fur, it looks like bear; and found in Yandao County of Qionglai Mountain (the present Rongjing County, Sichuan Province), Giant Pandas were named Iron-eating Animal because it was said they ate metals.

Pandas and Humans in Imperial China

In A.D. 210, there is a record of an emperor in Xian keeping several as pets. The mother of another Han emperor was buried with the skull of a panda. The poet Bai Juyi (772-846) wrote that pandas possessed magical pelts that could exorcize evil spirits and cure disease. Panda pelts were highly-valued gifts, often associated with royalty, Panda skulls have been found in the tombs of noblemen from this period.

By the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.– A.D. 220) pandas were considered symbols of strength and bravery — and peace. In “On Shanglin Garden”, essayist Sima Xiangru recorded that Han Emperor Hanwu once had many fowls and animals in Shanglin Garden for the emperor's hunting, and Mo (Giant panda) was among the most important animals. In the West Jin Dynasty (A.D. 266–316) the Giant panda was called Zhouyu.("Animal of Justice ") because it ate bamboo only and did not hurt other animals, and was seen as an an animal of peace and friendliness. When two forces meet in a fierce battle, if one army shows a flag marked "Zhouyu," the battle will stop, according to ancient traditions of war. A flag marked "Zhouyu" means peace and friendship. [Source: Science Museum of China]

According to the Imperial Yearbook of Japan, on October 22, 658 A.D., the Tang Empress Wu Zetian sent two white bears (Giant pandas) and 70 pieces of panda fur to Emperor Tianwu of Japan. When the great poet of Tang Dynasty Bai Juyi was resting and felt cold and had a headache because of the chilly wind someone gave him a screen on which a giant panda was painted. It is said the screen had a magic effect and immediately drove away the illness. To mark the moment Bai Juyi wrote “Ode to a Pixiu Screen” on the screen and said that giant pandas need a peaceful environment for survival and expressed his concern about the misfortunes and famines brought to the common people by wars.

In “Compendium of Materia Medica”, the famous Ming Dynasty ( (A.D. 1368 to 1644) pharmacist Li Shizhen described how bedding made of panda fur can prevent coldness and wetness, as well as pestilence and vice. He also said the oil of panda can penetrate the skin to cure tubers; and its urine, drunk together with water, can dissolve metal things eaten by mistake.

Names for the Giant Panda

Pixiu is the ancient name of the Giant Panda in Book of Songs, Annotations of Erya (A proto-dictionary in the form of a collection of early glosses and explanations on words appearing in Zhou texts) by Guopu, first records in Han Shu·Wenyilu (A.D. 111) . This book records: Huoganjiang (the name of a male panda); Xiu (the name of a female panda), in Ciyuan (Source of words) as well as pixiu and mo as words for pandas.[Source: Science Museum of China]

Pandas were also referred to as: 1) Huangmo, in the WangHuiPian (a Book of Zhou Dynasty); 2) White Leopard in Annotations of the Book of Songs by Luji; 3) Mengbao and Mengshishou in the Shu Zhong Guang Ji (Extensive Records of Central Sichuan Province); 4) Nietie in Shenyijing (Book on Strange Things); and 5) Iron-Eating Animal in Shu Zhong Guang Ji (Extensive Records of Central Sichuan Province).

The Name Da Xiong Mao (Giant Bear-Cat) (now generally used in China) came from the original name Mao Xiong (Cat-Bear) or Da Maoxiong (Giant Cat-Bear), which referred to the round face like the cat and the fat figure like a bear. Sometimes, people took it as a relative of bears. Later on, the Chinese writing system underwent a reform, and people visiting the Beipei Museum read the sign in a wrong way. So, Xiong Mao became the Chinese name of Giant panda. Now, the Chinese official name of the Giant Panda is Xiongmao.

The local name of the giant panda in its home area is still old white bear or flowery bear. The Tibetan people in the Mingshan Mountain call it Dang or Du Dong Ga, or Dong Ga. The people of Pingwu County call it Bai MaBu Da. The Li people of Liangshan Mountains call it Equ. All of these local names, though different in pronunciation, retain the meaning of a white or white-and-black bear-like animal.

“The giant panda also has other names like Chinabear, Bamboobear, Silverdog and Giant raccoon. The name giant raccoon came into being because the giant panda is closely related to raccoon (even now, some scholars tend to classify it into the raccoon class), but the panda is much bigger than the raccoon. The name silver dog appeared because the Red Pandas are locally called golden dog, so giant pandas with white hairs are called silver dogs. Bamboo-bear, we can easily guess, is from the fact that the giant panda eats bamboos; and Chinabear was given to it because it is a rare animal peculiar to China.

Pandas and Père Armand David

The first report of a panda in the West came in 1869 from Père Armand David (1826-1900), a French missionary priest and explorer, who was shown two female specimens shot by Chinese hunters. He wrote he'd seen "the prettiest kind of animal I know” and said he “wanted to kill this carnivore.” He sent some skins and bones to Paris.

The modern name giant panda is attributed to David , who lived in China for 12 years from 1862 to 1874. Preaching in Beijing and Shanghai, David was also a correspondent researcher of the National Museum of France. A natural historian, David has found 68 new species of birds, over one hundred species of insects, and many mammal species — including the Milu deer, golden monkey and the giant pandas — in various places of China. In March 1869, David came to the catholic church in Dengchigou of Muping (now Banshan County) of Sichuan and became the fourth preaching priest there. The Dengchigou Catholic Church was one of the earliest churches secretly built by the Cathedral Church of France in Sichuan.[Source: Science Museum of China]

In his journal,David wrote: "On March 11, 1869, when I was on my way back to the Church, I was invited to have a rest in a Mr. Li's home. In his home, I saw the panda's skin. It's big and beautiful colored black and white. The skin was quite peculiar. Li told me that I would see this animal very soon, for his hunters were going to hunt this animal!it seemed that a new species in the science domain will be found!"

In his Journal of March 23, 1869, David wrote: "After leaving for 10 days, the hunters were back today. They brought a young whitebear to me. It was caught alive, but was killed only to bring it back more easily." David pitied the death of the young panda cub, and he wrote on: "they sold the young whitebear to me at a very high price. The body of the whitebear was all white except that the legs, the ears and the places around its two eyes are black. It has the same skin color as a grown-up bear that I have seen before. I believe it to be a new species, not only because of its skin color, but also because of the hair beneath its feet and other characteristics.

David sent this specimen of whitebear to Melne Edwards, the director of the Natural Museum of Paris, who studied the skin and skeleton of the animal and published a paper in 1870, announcing "in terms of external features, it is really very close to bears; but its skeleton and teeth are apparently different from bears — actually very close to raccoons. It must be a new species, and I name it Ailuropoda." Paying tribute to David's contribution, Edwards named the scientific name of the Giant panda as Ailuropoda melanoleuca David, which has been used utill now. The first giant panda specimen collected by David is still kept in the Natural Museum of Paris.

Pandas and the West

After David introduced the giant panda to the world, a "giant panda mania" swept some western countries.. Many zoologists, explorers, travelers and hunters came to China from far away, with the purpose of catching a rare giant panda. However, it's very hard to find giant pandas because they usually live alone in the thick forest of mountain areas. [Source: Science Museum of China]

Two Russian got a giant panda fur in an area around Pingwu and Songpan of Sichuan Province. German zoologist Hugo Weigold caught a live giant panda in Wenchuan of Sichuan Province and became the first westerner to own a live panda. The foreigner who obtained most giant pandas from China was Briton F.T. Smith. He stayed for 20 years an area where giant pandas lived and was called "King of Giant Pandas" by the westerners. From 1936 to 1938, Smith bought 12 live giant pandas in Wenchan of Sichuan Province. Of these only six made it to Britain alive.

Several hunting expedition were launched. They were unable to bag a pandas. Finally in 1929, Theodore Roosevelt's sons, Kermit and Theodore Jr., killed a panda on a hunting expedition They were the first two Americans who came to China to hunt giant pandas. In 1928, Kermit and Theodore Roosevelt, traveled to Baoshan county of Sichuan but failed to get a giant panda. The two then went to Yuexi county of the Liangshan Mountain where they killed a grown-up female panda, and wrote the first description of a a Westerner killing a panda. Afterward, two more the Roosevelt brothers, Sage and Sheldon, Shaffer from Germany, and Brockhurst from UK all came to China and killed giant pandas. Some Westerners who killed or hunted giant pandas sold their skins and parts to Chinese for very high prices.



The word pandemonium was coined in 1936 to describe the reception a panda received when it was first shown in the West. The first panda to be seen in Europe and America was a cub named Su-Lin ("something very cute"), brought from Sichuan province by a rich socialite named Ruth Harkness. With extensive media coverage the cub was first displayed at the Chicago zoo, drawing a crowd of 54,000, a number that has yet to be repeated. While cameras clicked away, Harkness, dressed in a fur with a cigarette dangling from her lips, fed the panda with a baby bottle.

Harkness, whose husband had been killed in a panda hunting expedition in China, became a big celebrity. Describing how she found the animal in bamboo thicket, she wrote in her book: "I stumbled blinded, brushing the water from my face and eyes. Then I stopped, frozen in my tracks. From the old dead tree came a baby's whimper." In reality she is believed to have purchased the cub from a Chinese hunter who had reportedly captured the animal for Floyd Tangier Smith, one of Harkness's rivals in the quest to bring back the first live panda.

Harkness's husband William Harkness was an adventurer and a zoologist. They set off to China to capture giant pandas soon after they were married. Before Ruth Harkness began her quest for the panda she had never been abroad and never tracked an animal. After her arrival in China she wrote a friend: “I am so damn glad to be alive, and in China, and about to stalk a panda, I could scream and yell and howl with joy.” Tying up much of her inheritance in the project she teamed up with a 22-year-old Chinese hunter who became her lover, and headed off to the mountains of Sichuan from Shanghai with 16 coolies and a cook. Harkness sold Su-Lin to a Chicago zoo for $14,000 (the animal died a year later).

Harkness traveled into Wenchuang County of Sichuan Province, then to Baoxing county where David found the first panda. She eventually got her hands on a less-than-two-pound panda cub that had been born for about 30 days in the bamboo forest 2 kilometers from the Jiajin Mountain. So excited, Ruth took care of the panda cub like her own baby. In her journal, she wrote, "it has a black-and-white ball-like head. When rubbing its nose over my shirt, it often finds my breast by instinct. With the help of her friends, Ruth bribed the custom officers and took Sulin on the ship and then outside China. The panda cub Sulin was carried through in a bamboo basket but customs recorded "taking along a barking dog."

In the spring of 1937, Sulin was exhibited in the Chicago Zoo of the United States and soon became a star of the city, attracting as many as 40,000 visitors to the zoo. The story of Sulin and Ruth encouraged the hunting and capturing of pandas. Between 1936 and 1941, Americans alone took nine living pandas from China. According to Chinese statistics, between 1869 to 1946, more than 200 foreigners had come to the panda habitat in China to investigate, collect information, hunt, kill or buy living giant pandas or panda specimens. Sixteen living giant pandas were taken from China 1936 to 1946. By 1949, 73 pandas had left China and many others had been killed by Western hunters. Today, at least 70 giant panda specimens are possessed by Foreign museums.

Pandemonium remains very much alive in China. Images of pandas are stamped on everything from key chains to chocolates. Lesser Panda cigarettes and Pride-band cigarettes both have pictures of a panda on the package. In 2002, the first international panda festival was held. Scientists say that teddy bears and pandas are so adored by humans because their big eyes, large round head, soft, flat features without a strong nose or chin are similar to features typically found on human babies and that the adoration is a form of the maternal nurturing instinct.

Book: “The Lady and the Panda” by Vicki Constantine Croke (Random House, 2005).

Captive and Trained Pandas

Between the 1930s and early 2000s, 53 zoos and 7 natural reserves in other countries have bred or displayed giant pandas, witha total number of 519 (284 captured or saved wild giant pandas and 235 pandas born of artificial reproduction). As of the early 2000s, 32 of these foreign or domestic institutes still have giant pandas, but only the Beijing Zoo, the Chengdu Zoo and the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center outside Chengdu have more than 10 giant pandas each. [Source: Science Museum of China]

There were 126 pandas in captivity as of November 1999, most of them in China. Seven were in U.S. zoos. Bored and stressed out pandas engage on abnormal repetitive behavior such as pacing and head tossing. To keep them entertained pandas are given "toys" such as tree branches, burlap bags stuffed with straw, apple pieces stuffed into bamboo and fruit-laden ice pops. Human contact appears to distress pandas.

In captivity, pandas are expensive to keep. Even in China where everything is very cheap it costs between $3,000 and $4,000 annually to keep a panda supplied with bamboo. Add in housing and medical care and the cost rises to $12,500. The total cost for keeping a panda in a zoo in the United is $2.6 million.

It is said pandas will respond if their name is called. Pandas in captivity have been trained to do tricks. A panda named WeyWey, who may have been trained using electric shock, performed in the Shanghai Circus. He pushed a little car with a teddy bear panda inside and ate a meal with his trainer. In 2007, a drunken construction worker climbed into a panda enclosure at the Beijing Zoo and tried to hug the panda there. After being bitten by the panda he tried to bite the panda back, saying afterwards, “Its fur was too thick.”

Pandas can be caressed and played with until they are two years old but after that the going can get a little rough and occasionally draw blood, After they are four they are too strong and unprotected interaction with them is dangerous. Pandas like to be stroked and touched. Using a technique called “living heart action” the pandas are touched, pet and talked to in a calm, smooth voice. The technique was first to calm pandas so dosages of anaesthetic could reduced when performing tests. Using the techniques, researchers now need 10 percent less sedatives than they used to when performing medical procedures. The technique was also used to calm pandas traumatized by the 2008 earthquake.

Pandas Attacks on Humans

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Gu Gu, a 110-kilogram male at the Beijing Zoo, attacked people on three different occasions after they entered his enclosure. In 2007 he bit a drunken tourist who jumped in his pen and tried to hug him. In 2009 he bit the leg of a man who climbed over a 1.4-meter barrier into the pen to retrieve a dropped toy and wouldn’t let go until zookeepers used tools to pry his jaws open. In a stand-up fight with the average human almost any animal larger than a Labrador will win, though there is a story a heroic Chinese man once kick-boxed a panda to a draw.

In 2015, a Chinese man who sued local government officials over an attack by a wild panda was awarded more than $80,000 in compensation. AFP reported: “The animals are renowned for their lovable appearance but despite their placid image they are members of the bear family and have a fearsome bite. The animal wandered into Liziba village, in the northwestern province of Gansu, where local officials trying to capture it chased it onto Guan Quanzhi's land, the Lanzhou Evening News reported. "I saw a panda jump out in front of me, its body completely covered in mud," he told the newspaper. “The creature bit him in the leg and only released its grip when another villager covered its head with a coat, the report said. The incident in March 2014 left Guan with injuries requiring seven hours of surgery. The panda escaped. [Source: AFP, March 16, 2015]

“Guan's son sued local forestry officials and the nearby Baishuijiang National Nature Reserve, which is home to more than 100 wild pandas. Following "negotiations", officials agreed to pay compensation of 520,000 yuan ($83,000), his lawyer Wang Chaohui told AFP. Guan is "satisfied with the amount", which will cover his medical bills, he said, adding that he may need further operations.

In 2008 when a panda mauled a 20-year-old man who climbed into its enclosure at a zoo in southern China. “The nature conservation organisation WWF says on its website: "As cuddly as they may look, a panda can protect itself as well as most other bears," using its heavy weight, strong jaw muscles and large molar teeth. “It cautions: "Although used mainly for crushing bamboo, a panda bite can be very nasty."

Fund-Raising and Pandas

Much of the money earmarked for panda conservation comes from sources outside of China. For a time China’s support was less than what many people expected. A former World Wildlife Fund official told the Washington Post in the 1990s, "The Chinese are pointing a gun to the head of the panda and saying, 'If you want to keep it, fund it. Otherwise we're going to let it go.'" These days the Chinese government is very much invloved in protecting and saving pandas.

Millions of dollars has been raised by conservation groups to help the panda. In the Pennies for Panda fund raising drive, American school children gave five million pennies to help save the panda. The World Wildlife Fund uses the panda as its symbol and has helped raise millions of dollars to help pandas and dozens of other endangered animals.

The giant panda is one of the best-known symbols in the world, used to sell everything from electronic goods to fizzy drinks, chocolate to biscuits, licorice to cigarettes — not to mention global conservation. The Chengdu research Base of Giant Panda Breeding sells odor-free souvenirs such as photo frames, bookmarks and Olympics-themed statues made form panda dung.

Rent-a-Panda Program

A "rent a panda" program was set up to earn money for panda research, breeding and projects that help protect and preserve pandas. Pandas have been rented out for as much $1 million a year for a pair. The National Zoo in Washington D.C. and Atlanta Zoo each paid $10 million for two pandas for 10 years. The Ueno Zoo in Tokyo got four pandas for the same price. Zoos in Switzerland, Canada, South Korea, Thailand and the Netherlands have paid $30,000 to $70,000 a month to borrow pandas for up to four months.

The rented pandas are taken from a captive population of about 90 pandas in China. China retains ownership of the pandas and any babies they produce. The process of acquiring a panda can be quite complicated, requiring reams of paperwork and waits of up to several years. Most end up in zoos, but one conservationist said "even state fairs want them."

The process is technically viewed as a partnerships between the Chinese government and the participating zoo or country. Money earned from the rent-panda programs is earmarked for panda conservation, training conservationists, installing communications networks, creating environmental education programs for schools near protected areas, and restoring degraded bamboo forests.

Some have complained that the program has been used to make large profits for zoos. When the San Diego rented a pair of pandas for 200 days in 1987 and 1988 attendance increased by a third and the zoo made more than $5 million through the sale of panda T-shirts and other merchandise.

For a while the program was shut down on the grounds that animals captured for captivity contributed to the extinction of the species. The United States banned the import of pandas for five years in the 1990s. Only after certain rules were implemented was the program restarted. One of the central rules now is that pandas must have come from captivity not the wild.

In September 2007 the Chinese government said it would no longer give out pandas as gifts. One official said the animals would only be lent out for “breeding and biological research.” In 2012, a pair of pandas was given to a zoo in Edinburgh, Scotland on a ten-year loan after five years of negotiations and a detailed inspection of the zoo by Chinese officials.

Panda Diplomacy

The Chinese government likes to uses pandas as a diplomatic gesture and periodically Beijing gives a pair of pandas to countries as a sign of goodwill. The tradition dates back to A.D. 685 when Tang Dynasty Empress Wu Zetian gave two pandas to the Emperor of Japan. She is described as the first Chinese ruler to practice panda diplomacy. In 1941, China gave a panda to the Bronx Zoo as a gesture of thanks to the United States for its help during World War II. In the 1950s, pandas were given as gifts to Communist allies such as North Korea and the Soviet Union.

Between 1958 and 1982, Beijing sent pandas to nine countries, including Japan and Mexico, One of the primary goals of a visit by British Prime Minister Edward Heath to China in 1974 was to secure a panda. As of the early 2000s, there were pandas in the United States, Mexico, Japan, Germany, Austria and Thailand. They like all pandas are property of the Chinese government. Offspring of pandas born outside China are allowed to live with their parents for two years but after that they can be called back to China at any time.

The Chinese government offered a pair of pandas to Taiwan as a present when Taiwan’s Kuomintang leader Lien Chen visited China in 2005. In March 2006, Taiwan turned down the pandas, citing a lack of a proper place to keep them and saying China should allow a pair of pandas to remain in the wild rather than give a pair to Taiwan. The Taiwanese President Chen Shui-ban said the move was propaganda to hide China’s intent to attack Taiwan. One Taiwanese lawmaker told the Los Angeles Times, “The pandas are a trick, just like the Trojan horse. Pandas are cute, but they are meant to destroy Taiwan’s psychological defenses.” Most ordinary Taiwanese disagreed,. One poll found that 70 percent of Taiwanese were in favor of accepting the pandas. Beijing scored a number of public relations points as it made public news about “trial marriages” to find the ideal pair to give Taiwan and gave details of their personalities, chemistry, hobbies (tree climbing) and even “language lessons” on Taiwan’s Minnan dialect.

China renewed its panda offer after a new president was elected in Taiwan in 2008 and the same year the giant pandas Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan were sent from the mainland to Taiwan in 2008 as part of an exchange program. IIn China, a country where people are not allowed to vote for leaders, Chinese were asked to vote for the names they liked best for the pandas given to Taiwan. The winning names — Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan — were announced before hundreds of millions of viewers on China annual Chinese New Year television show.

Pandas and the United States

For a long time the most famous pandas in the United States were Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, a male-female pair given by China to the American people in 1972 after Nixon's historic visit to China. The pandas went a long way towards warming relations between the United States and China. Some have said they did more for Sino-American relations than Henry Kissinger and should have been considered for the Nobel Peace Prize. In return, the United States gave China a pair of musk oxen.

Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing were placed in the National Zoo in Washington D.C. Nixon never went to see them but his wife did. Ling-ling died in 1992 of a heart attack. She had five babies in four pregnancies. None survived more than four days. Hsing-Hsing died in 1999 at the age of 28 after a long bout with kidney disease. In 2000, the Washington zoo welcomed a new pair of pandas — Mei Xiang and Tian Tian-obtained for $10 million for 10 years through the Rent-a-Panda program.

As of 2006, there were 10 pandas in the United States: two in Washington, two in Atlanta, two in Memphis and four in San Diego. The San Diego Zoo said goodbye to its last two panda in 2019. A big deal was made about how sad everyone was about sending back Tai Shan to China. Tai Shan from the National Zoo in Washington and another young panda born at a zoo in Atlanta were flown back to China in February 2010.

As of 2006, only four pandas had been bred in captivity in the United States (three in San Diego and one on Washington). In the summer of 2005, a baby panda named Tai Shan was born to Tian Tian and Mei Xiang at the National Zoo in Washington. The cub was monitored round the clock by closed circuit cameras with volunteer researchers recording every yawn and paw twitch and other behaviors they observed. A half million people came to see her at the zoo in the first four months after her public debut. Millions have watched her on the “panda cam” on the zoo’s web site.

Art Made Panda Excrement

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “To some discerning eyes, the statue is a satire of classical aesthetics that judge beauty by Western standards. To others, the use of natural, recyclable materials shows the artist's commitment to the environment. And then there was this observation, posted on the artist's blog. "Disgusting, disgusting, disgusting!!!" [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, December 19, 2010]

“The artwork in question is a copy of the classical Greek statue Venus de Milo, made out of raw material supplied by China's most beloved mammals. In other words, panda excrement. Lest anybody badmouth it as just another piece of, well, excrement, it should be noted that a retired Swiss diplomat who is one of the leading collectors of modern Chinese art paid $50,000 for the 2-foot-tall statue by Zhu Cheng, a sculptor from Chengdu, home to China's main panda breeding reserve.”

“Zhu gained some notoriety for a controversial fashion show in which models, dressed entirely in black and white like pandas, portrayed some of the less desirable elements of Chinese society, such as corrupt officials and prostitutes. He said his inspiration for the excrement piece came from the stark contrast between the preciousness of the panda (literally priceless, in that China does not permit the animal to be sold and only lends them to zoos) and the prodigious amount of waste they produce. (An adult panda defecates about 40 times per day, producing nearly 45 pounds of waste.) "Venus is a beautiful figure," Zhu said. "But by creating the statue out of excrement, we set up an internal conflict between beauty and waste that makes for a magical work of art." “

Reactions to the Venus de Milo run the gamut — amusement, appreciation, bewilderment and disgust. "I think it's very creative, the way the artist is using such environmentally friendly material," said Li Chunyang, a hospital worker from Zhengzhou who had taken a day off to bring her 5-year-old daughter, Xiangxiang. The girl was less impressed. "Yuck. I'm scared," she said, refusing to approach the display case too closely. The curator of one show with the piece had mixed feelings: "I think it is a good piece from an artistic point of view, but personally I wouldn't collect it. I wouldn't want poop in my home, even poop from a panda."

“Zhu made the sculpture with the help of a dozen elementary school pupils in a Chengdu youth center who weren't afraid to get their hands dirty for the sake of art. They're now considering something more ambitious — a life-size panda poo rendition of Michelangelo's David. "The kids didn't wear gloves. Neither did I," Zhu said. Because the pandas eat a mostly vegetarian diet, Zhu said, their droppings did not have a distasteful odor. "I was surprised. It smelled more like tea."

“The most difficult part was obtaining the raw material. Although the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, with 83 pandas, had no shortage of panda dung, the management was initially suspicious of Zhu's request."Now, why do you need this?" Zhu recalled the management asking him repeatedly. Once convinced that Zhu was legitimate, the reserve allowed his team of students to collect buckets of fresh droppings. Each one was about the size of a goose egg, with sticks of partially digested bamboo poking out. To make it the proper consistency for sculpting, it was mixed with plaster and glue.”

World's Most Expensive Tea: Grown from Panda Droppings

In January 2012, AFP reported: “Chinese entrepreneur An Yanshi is convinced he has found the key ingredient to produce the world's most expensive tea — panda dung. The former calligraphy teacher has purchased 11 tonnes of feces from a panda breeding centre to fertilise a tea crop in the mountains of Sichuan province in southwestern China. An says he will harvest the first batch of tea leaves this spring and it will be the "world's most expensive tea" at almost 220,000 yuan ($35,000) for 500 grams (18 ounces). [Source: Allison Jackson, AFP, January 10, 2012]

Chinese tea drinkers regard the first batch of tea to be harvested in the early spring as the best and successive batches, regarded as inferior, will sell for around 20,000 yuan. The 41 year-old, who is so passionate about his new project he dressed in a panda suit for his interview with AFP, has been ridiculed by some in China for his extravagant claims of the potential health benefits of the tea.

But he insists he is deadly serious, saying he quit his job at Sichuan University to throw himself "heart and soul" into his company, Panda Tea, whose logo features a smiling panda wearing a bow tie and holding a steaming glass of green tea. While An hopes to make money from the tea, which he has planted on just over a hectare (2.5 acres) of land, his main mission is to convince the world to protect the environment and replace chemical fertilisers with animal feces — before it is too late.

"Panda dung is rich in nutrition ... and should be much better than chemical fertilisers," An said, as he sat at a traditional Chinese tea table drinking tea grown with cow manure. "People should make a harmonious relationship with heaven, earth and the environment," An said. "Everybody has an obligation to protect the environment," he added, as he showed AFP dozens of traditional Chinese scroll paintings that he has created of cheerful-looking pandas, bamboo and calligraphy.

The tea aficionado got the idea to use panda faeces as fertiliser after attending a seminar last year where he discovered that the bears absorbed less than 30 per cent of the bamboo they consumed, excreting the remaining 70 per cent. An showed journalists a glass jar of fresh-looking panda faeces, which he uses to fertilise two tea plants in his office, noting the "quality" and "green" colour of the dung. He is so convinced that Panda Tea will be a hit that he has patented the idea to prevent a competitor stealing it — a common occurrence in a country where laws protecting intellectual property rights are often flouted.

Image Sources: 1) Xinhua; 2) Mongabey ; 3) Panda ailumela; 4) Nolls China website; 5) WWF; 6) Beifan

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2022

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