Category Archives: Community Activism

Panda Diplomacy – Bears on Loan?

Famous, fluffy, and adorable, panda bears are one of the most recognized animals. Due to hunting and habitat loss, panda numbers declined into the late 20th century, but conservation efforts have pulled the population back up to approximately 2,000 living in the wild and near 250 in captivity. Giant pandas are native to China, and what’s more, the Chinese government owns all of them, whether they live there or not.

Over spring break, I went to the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and the last animal my friends and I got to see was a giant panda. This panda could have been Mei Xiang or Tian Tian, a female and male respectively, both born in a Chinese research center but on loan to the United States. These pandas belong to the Chinese government who leased them to the National Zoo in a ten-year, $10 million agreement. In other words, one million dollars per year per panda. This may sound bad. Did the Chinese just cash out by renting two members of an endangered species to another country? Say it isn’t so.

It isn’t so. By law, the Chinese government must funnel half of the lease money to panda conservation and research. Furthermore, the envoy of pandas to other countries is no new concept. China’s use of pandas as diplomatic gifts* to other countries is a tradition found as far back as the Tang Dynasty (618-907A.D.). Hence the term “panda diplomacy”. It was revived in the 1950s and continues through today, but not always with the price tag attached. Before Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, two pandas were gifted to the United States after former President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, and they were donated to the National Zoo. The black-and-white bears were incredibly popular and viewed as more than balls of fur; these bears were political symbols of peaceful diplomatic relations between giver and receiver. In 1984, China changed its policy on panda diplomacy. There would be no giving of pandas. Rather, the Chinese government would loan a panda to another country on a ten- year lease with fees up to $1,000,000 a year, under the provision that any cub born during the loan period is the property of China. This explains why the son of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, born in 2005, was sent “back” to China in early 2010.

Attitudes surrounding panda diplomacy are not always positive. In 2005, after a Taiwanese party leader visited China, two pandas were offered as a gift to the people of Taiwan. Although a popular idea with the Taiwanese public, one of the political parties disapproved because of the ongoing conflict about Taiwan being a part of China. Back to political symbols, the pandas would represent China trying to acquire Taiwan. Also, the trade agreement was disputed as a domestic transfer (i.e. China was sending the pandas to another part of China) or a country-to-country transfer. A change in Taiwanese leadership in 2008 led to the pandas being accepted into Taiwan.

Diplomatic gifts. Political symbols. Revenue makers. Conservation funders. Research subjects. Wrapped into a furry package, these pandas play a lot of roles, but how are they impacted? What does it mean for the giant panda to be made into something leased and transferred and legally disputed? Panda diplomacy is certainly a political phenomenon, but what does it mean for conservation? The two pandas gifted to the U.S. in 1972 and donated to the National Zoo were taken from the wild, and forceful captures like this should not occur. Zoos should house animals for rehabilitation or conservation purposes. Examples are animals who cannot live in their natural habitat, whether that be because they are injured, refugees from a damaged area, or born into captivity without the means to survive in the wild.** The Chinese government should never have captured them, but there is fault in the United States and the National Zoo graciously accepting them. However, nowadays, pandas involved in acts of panda diplomacy are almost all born into captivity, whether in a zoo or conservation center or research facility. As long as the receiving party has the facilities, money, and utilities to properly and humanely care for the pandas, the pandas are typically taking a ten-year vacation from one home in captivity for another. It is also important to remember that pandas are rare, and therefore valuable. Sticking a price tag on animals like these may seem demoralizing, but wouldn’t it be equally bad if these endangered animals were given out for free? Furthermore, much of the revenue cycles back into efforts to help giant pandas. As aforementioned, the Chinese government must send at least half of the money from leasing profits to research and conservation groups. By China leasing pandas to other countries, and other countries paying to receive them, the panda conservation movement is given fuel to research and restore this species in the wild. Panda diplomacy has its flaws and dark moments, but overall, who is losing out? When I was gawking at that adorable bear at the National Zoo, it certainly wasn’t me.

* Diplomatic gifts are generally defined as gifts exchanged with or following a visit by a diplomat, leader, or politician to a foreign country.

** Further information: The National Geographic documentary Pandas: The Journey Home includes the survival training and subsequent return of a captive-born panda into the wild.

Punishment and Privatization: Debunking the Prison Industrial Complex

Over the past week, the Criminal Justice Awareness and Action committee put on several events for their Criminal Justice Reform Advocacy week. Many students may have seen the replica solitary confinement cell in the pit last week; that was part of CJAA’s program, which also included a one-woman show on domestic violence, an art benefit night, and several discussions on other criminal justice-related topics. Continue reading Punishment and Privatization: Debunking the Prison Industrial Complex

Black Liberation Teach-In Series Presents: Afrofuturism

For this event, UNC Black Liberation decided to go with the title This World Ain’t Our Home: Afro-Futurist Galaxies of Black Art and Thought. As someone who knew very little of Afrofuturism, I was interested to see exactly how the event unfolded, and I was not disappointed. Continue reading Black Liberation Teach-In Series Presents: Afrofuturism

Using the Restroom Shouldn’t be this Hard

Picking a restroom has probably never been a struggle for you. You find the male or female stall and walk right in. No trouble. But imagine a situation where the signs on the wall are not male or female. There are two signs and you don’t fit into either of them. That’s unfair. Continue reading Using the Restroom Shouldn’t be this Hard

Spell(ings) Check

A few weeks ago, Margaret Spellings started her job as the new UNC system president. However, she was not welcomed with open arms and smiles. Instead, several college campuses planned and executed a walkout to protest Spellings. Continue reading Spell(ings) Check

Global Music Outreach Internship

Carolina offers us many opportunities to travel the world and expand our horizons. Those opportunities make take the shape of study abroad classes, internships, or even grants to financially support our travels. That being said, the Global Music Outreach Internship is a unique opportunity in so many ways. For one, the internship was founded by Carolina students themselves. One of the co-founders, junior Laura Limarzi, shared with me that while the program started as a project from Nourish, a Campus Y organization, it is now able to send 2-4 interns to Tanzania annually. Continue reading Global Music Outreach Internship

Love Your Body Day

I was reminded last Wednesday that loving your body includes not just learning to love your body’s appearance, but also what good it is capable of doing.

On March 2nd, Omega Phi Beta Sorority Inc., UNC’s multi-ethnically based and Latina-oriented sorority, alpha Kappa Delta Phi Sorority Inc., UNC’s largest and only international Asian-interest sorority, and Alpha Pi Omega Sorority Inc., the first historically American Indian sorority, hosted “Love Your Body Day: An Open Mic Night” to celebrate bodies of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Continue reading Love Your Body Day

The Black Muslim Experience

As part of a three event series on people of African descent, presented through a collaborative effort by the Campus Y, BSM, MSA, and OASIS, Tae Brown led a panel of Black Muslims to discuss their experiences as they relate to their identity. The three panelists were able to give insight on the life of the average Black Muslim in America, and raise interesting points concerning their view of how they fit within their community. Continue reading The Black Muslim Experience

The Relaunch of Hunger Lunch

This past Wednesday on March 2nd, Nourish UNC, a college chapter that is part of Nourish International and seeks to organize students and communities to reduce poverty around the world, relaunched Hunger Lunch, the most important event for this organization. Between 11:00 and 2:00, Vimala’s Curryblossom Café helped bring students basmati rice, chickpea curry, and naan for the cheap price of $5.50. This will continue to happen every Wednesday at the same time for the foreseeable future. After the event, Hannah Smith, the Hunger Lunch Director, agreed to answer some questions about the relaunch of Hunger Lunch and its connection to the organization. Continue reading The Relaunch of Hunger Lunch

Stories and Insights from William A. Keyes

William A. Keyes is a leader, a son, an optimist, a member of the UNC Board of Trustees and more. But first and foremost, William “Bill” Keyes is a storyteller. Every time Mr. Keyes would begin discussing a different topic or idea he would stop mid-sentence and say, “Let me tell y’all a story.” And the intimate, funny stories he told, gave the audience insight into the smiling and successful man standing onstage. Continue reading Stories and Insights from William A. Keyes