[FOUNTAIN]A gift from China that eats bamboo

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[FOUNTAIN]A gift from China that eats bamboo

The appeal of the panda begins with its appearance. Its black-and-white contrast is bold, and its way of moving makes it seem serene. Its habits, living as it does on bamboo shoots alone, are elegant. It is a rare animal; only 1,600 pandas live on earth. Its Chinese name, xiongmao, or “bear cat,” because it looks like a bear but behaves like a cat, is queer.
The panda is well-known as a political symbol. For centuries, it has been given as a precious diplomatic gift. The first such instance on record was when Empress Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty gave one to a Japanese goodwill envoy. Japan had sought direct cultural exchange with China after Baekje, Japan’s ally and the initiator of its culture, was defeated by Silla.
Mao Zedong sent a panda to the Soviet Union in 1957, the 40th anniversary of the Russian revolution. With a U.S. troop buildup underway in Taiwan, China was seeking Russia’s help in developing nuclear weapons. Though Russia sent nuclear technicians to China, it did not hand over the core technology. Chinese scientists developed nuclear weapons on their own, using scraps of documents Russian scientists had left behind.
In 1972, Mao sent a panda to Washington. It was a gift to President Nixon, who had just visited China. The panda was a sign of China’s willingness to come out from behind the “bamboo curtain.” Having been betrayed by Russia, Mao tried to revitalize his country through the Cultural Revolution, but failed. Mao understood the limits of Chinese technology and capital, and decided to adopt an open-door policy, shunning the ultra-leftists. Just before Nixon’s visit, China received United Nations Security Council membership in place of Taiwan. This was because the United States had abstained from the vote. Two years after Nixon’s visit, Deng Xiaoping was reinstated.
On Monday, China said it would send two pandas to Taiwan, in a gesture of friendship. In March, however, China passed a law authorizing the use of force to prevent Taiwanese independence. With the stick already in hand, China this week presented the carrot. The stick and the carrot, the hard and the soft, must be used together to get the most effective result.

by Oh Byung-sang

The writer is the JoongAng Ilbo’s London correspondent.
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