Panda cub debut adds cuddly moment to China-Taiwan ties

Never mind the fact that her parents' names, said together, mean 'reunion.' The senior pandas were China's gift to Taiwan.

Wally Santana / AP
Taiwan's six month-old panda cub Yuan Zai hangs precariously from logs as she is viewed by the public for the first time at the Taipei Zoo in Taipei, Taiwan, on Monday. The panda cub, whose parents were gifts from China to Taiwan in 2008, was unveiled to her adoring public Monday, as hundreds of visitors queued up at the zoo.

China probably wasn’t on the minds of more than 9,500 people who visited the Taipei Zoo for their first look at a giant panda cub this week, but the critter’s popularity still gives a soft touch to tough relations between two old political foes.

The cub named Yuan Zai was born exactly six months ago to two gift pandas from China. Their names said together mean reunion, a hint about what Beijing wants for the two separately ruled sides. Yet the cub’s name comes from the local Taiwanese dialect, a distancing from Beijing, and many people have quit thinking about the older bears’ origin.

“Of course China will be happy about Yuan Zai because it’s the source of the adult pandas,” says Hsu Yung-ming, political scientist at Soochow University in Taipei. “But a lot of common people aren’t that clear as to where the cub came from. To them it’s just another phase of entertainment.”

Experts had described the gift pandas as China's ploy to charm the island public toward eventual reunification.

Even if visitors didn’t consider politics while taking a number to file past the zoo enclosure on Monday and exclaim “how cute,” China’s ears should still perk up.

Taiwan owns Yuan Zai, the first cub born locally, but will still consult China in making sure she breeds to raise the endangered world population, says zoo spokesman Chao Ming-chieh. China remains the top breeder of pandas and its bamboo forests are their only natural habitat. About 1,600 live in the wild. 

“We may consult them to consider who Yuan Zai’s future boyfriend will be,” Mr. Chao quips. “Our zoo viewpoint is that Yuan Zai is for both sides of the Strait and the whole world.”

Washington, also a recipient of Beijing’s panda goodwill, will return to China a cub born at the Smithsonian National Zoo so she can reproduce there.

Taipei cub views are also expected to surge later in the month as Taiwan begins its winter school break, giving children a chance to visit the zoo. Monday was the first day Yuan Zai went on display.

China gave the two adult pandas to Taipei’s zoo in 2009, after Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou had laid aside old political disputes a year earlier to build mutual trust and cash in on China’s massive economy. China hopes the two sides reunify, though Mr. Ma has kept Beijing waiting on any political dialogue.

The two sides have been separately ruled since the 1940s, when Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist forces lost the Chinese civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communists. Beijing still claims sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan, angering island leaders and roiling economic relations.

Taipei’s zoo initially kept Yuan Zai away from public viewing to ensure she was healthy. The cub, born through artificial insemination, can now walk, climb and eat with no hitches.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Panda cub debut adds cuddly moment to China-Taiwan ties
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today