Beloved panda was wartime am­bas­sador warm­ing hearts of peo­ple

China Daily (Canada) - - XI’S VISIT - By CHRIS PETER­SON in Lon­don chris@mail.chi­nadai­lyuk.com

She was black, white and furry, far from home, and loved hav­ing her tummy tick­led, es­pe­cially by princesses.

Now Ming, the gi­ant panda who brought so much joy to Lon­don­ers, es­pe­cially chil­dren, dur­ing the dark days of the Ger­man blitzkrieg dur­ing the World War II, will be re­mem­bered with a statue erected in her honor at Lon­don Zoo, where she spent much of her time from 1938 to 1944.

Ming was born in Sichuan prov­ince in 1937. At the time, less em­pha­sis was placed on panda preser­va­tion, and she was cap­tured by hun­ters and even­tu­ally given to Floyd Tang­ier-Smith, an Amer­i­can banker and ad­ven­turer who was in the re­gion.

She and five oth­ers were to be sent to Euro­pean zoos, but their jour­ney was, to put it mildly, event­ful. At the time, theChinese were fight­ing Ja­panese in­vaders, so Tang­ierSmith de­cided to avoid the ob­vi­ous route down the Yangtze River to Shang­hai and in­stead em­barked on a dan­ger­ous jour­ney over­land to Hong Kong.

He wrote that the pan­das were put in cages and loaded onto the backs of trucks for the jour­ney to Hong Kong “on roads that were of­ten nearly im­pass­able through ban­dit-in­fested coun­try”. One truck over­turned and two of the pan­das en­joyed tem­po­rary free­dom un­til they were re­cap­tured.

When the pan­das were be­ing loaded onto a ship in Hong Kong bound for Lon­don, one of the six was found dead.

The sur­vivors, known to their cap­tors as Grandma, Happy, Dopey and Grumpy, along with the cub who would be­come known as Ming, were put into cages and lifted onto the deck of a cargo ship. They ar­rived in Lon­don at the height of a rag­ing bliz­zard, ac­cord­ing to a Daily Mail re­port at the time.

Grandma, the el­dest, caught pneu­mo­ni­aand­died two weeks af­ter ar­riv­ing in Great Bri­tain, while Happy was ac­quired by a Ger­man zoo owner.

The Zoo­log­i­cal So­ci­ety of Lon­don, which runs Lon­don Zoo in Re­gent’s Park and Whip­snade Zoo in the Bedfordshire coun­try­side, took over the care of Ming and her older sib­lings, Sung and Tang. All three were named for Chi­nese dy­nas­ties.

Ming was the first gi­ant panda cub to come to Bri­tain and cre­ated mas­sive in­ter­est. Her im­age was re­pro­duced in car­toons and pic­ture post­cards; soft toys were made; and her story ap­peared in news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines and on the fledg­ling tele­vi­sion broad­casts from Alexan­dra Palace.

Bert Hardy, one of Bri­tain’s best-known pho­tog­ra­phers, man­agedto cap­ture amo­ment show­ing a playful Ming be­hind one of his cam­eras on a tri­pod, seem­ingly tak­ing a pic­ture of his son, Mike. The pho­to­graph went around the world.

Af­ter Bri­tain de­clared war on Ger­many in Septem­ber 1939, vis­its to see Ming be­came a re­minder of nor­mal­ity and a morale booster for Bri­tish chil­dren.

Chi­nese poet and author Chi­ang Yee, who was liv­ing in Lon­don, vis­ited the zoo and wrote about the crowds flock­ing to see Ming, who had rapidly be­come a celebrity.

“There were rows and rows of them, es­pe­cially chil­dren, round her house, want­ing to shake hands with her and to

Lon­don’s cud­dle her,” he wrote in an il­lus­trated book, The Story of Ming.

Among those young­sters were a cou­ple of royal chil­dren: Princess El­iz­a­beth, who would be­come the Queen, and her younger sis­ter Princess Mar­garet. Press re­ports at the time showed the royal chil­dren be­ing es­corted in­side Ming’s com­pound and tick­ling the panda’s tummy.

Sung died in 1939, fol­lowed by Tang in the spring of 1940. At the out­break of the war, Ming was evac­u­ated to Whip­snade Zoo but made re­peated re­turn trips.

Ming sur­vived most of the war. To­ward the end of her life, her hair be­gan to fall out. She died of un­ex­plained causes at the end of 1944. It would be an un­der­state­ment to say the na­tion mourned her loss.

The Times of Lon­don ran an obit­u­ary, vir­tu­ally un­heard of at a time when only the deaths of the prom­i­nent ap­peared on its pages. It read: “She could die happy in the knowl­edge that she glad­dened the uni­ver­sal heart and even in the stress of war her death should not go un­no­ticed.”

Ming was a pioneer in away. The first gi­ant panda cub to come to Bri­tain, she un­wit­tingly be­came the spear­head of what later be­came known as panda diplo­macy.

Be­tween 1958 and 1982, China pre­sented 23 gi­ant pan­das as gifts to nine coun­tries as a means of es­tab­lish­ing friendly re­la­tions. In­cluded among them were Ling Ling and Hs­ing Hs­ing, a pair given to the United States af­ter Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon’s ground­break­ing trip to China in 1972 that led to the nor­mal­iza­tion of re­la­tions be­tween the two pow­ers.

Bri­tain also got in on the act. Former prime min­is­ter Ed­ward Heath re­quested two pan­das dur­ing a trip to Bei­jing in 1974 and Chia Chia and Ching Ching duly took up res­i­dence in Lon­don.

By 1984, things had changed and­pan­das­be­camethe sub­ject of a loan pro­gram. Re­cip­i­ent zoos paid as­muchas $1 mil­lion a year for 10 years with the pro­viso that any cubs born were the prop­erty of China.

Re­cently Tian Tian, Ed­in­burgh Zoo’s res­i­dent fe­male panda, was thought to be preg­nant af­ter her third round of ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tion, but in Au­gust the zoo said it was be­lieved she had lost the cub.

Sichuan is the home of the panda, and con­ser­va­tion ef­forts there are a suc­cess story. Last year, the World Wildlife Fund for Na­ture said there were an es­ti­mated 1,864 pan­das liv­ing in the bam­boost­rewn moun­tains of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu prov­inces. A fur­ther 300 live in breed­ing cen­ters and zoos, mainly in China.

The peo­ple of Sichuan, proud of the panda and its links to the rest of the world, are do­nat­ing a life-size statue of Ming to Lon­don Zoo to mark the 70th an­niver­sary of the end of theWorldWar II.

WUZHIYI / CHINA DAILY

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and first lady Peng Liyuan lis­ten to Alice P. Gast, pres­i­dent of Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don, as she in­tro­duces in­for­ma­tion about Chi­nese stu­dents at the univer­sity, dur­ing a visit to Im­pe­rial Col­lege onWed­nes­day.

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