264 pages, 27 illustrations
A logo on products ranging from chopsticks and toilet paper to cell phones and automobiles, the panda is one of the most ubiquitous images in China and throughout the world. Yet the panda holds little notable historical significance in China. Although it has existed in the territory of present-day China since the Pliocene epoch, its widespread popularity there is not only recent, but almost sudden.
In Panda Nation, E. Elena Songster links the emergence of the giant panda as a national symbol to the development of nature protection in the People's Republic of China. The panda's transformation into a national treasure exemplifies China's efforts in the mid-twentieth century to distinguish itself as a nation through government-directed science and popular nationalism. The story of the panda's iconic rise offers a striking reflection of China's recent and dramatic ascent as a nation in global status.
"Songster has written a captivating chronicle of how the giant panda has become more than just an endangered species known for its attractiveness. This compelling history reveals the prominent role the giant panda, as both symbol and living creature, has played as a national icon and as a tool of diplomacy in the construction of a modern Chinese identity and in the development of science and nature protection in the People's Republic of China. Panda Nation is an engaging read that fills gaps in the fields of environmental history, environmental studies, and Chinese studies."
– Melinda Herrold-Menzies, Pitzer College
"Panda Nation is an impressive achievement. Based on extensive research, it offers a compelling account of the rise of a national icon and star of global conservation. The book will be widely noticed and read by scholars in animal studies, Chinese history, history of science, and environmental studies, but is accessible enough that non-academics can read it with ease."
– Fa-ti Fan, author of British Naturalists in Qing China: Science, Empire, and Cultural Encounter
"Want a readable, fast-moving account of modern Chinese history? It would be hard to do better than Elena Songster's Panda Nation. This account of how people have seen and used pandas touches engagingly on almost every facet of the history of the People's Republic: imperialism and colonialism, socialist science, Soviet influence, environmental conservation, resource exploitation, national pride, relations between central and local bureaucracy, attitudes toward ethnic minorities, the incompleteness of the Cultural Revolution, modern uses of traditional art forms, the documentary film industry, symbolic diplomacy, consumerism and tourism, individual agency in a bureaucratic state, even Taiwan's political status."
– Stevan Harrell, author of Ways of Being Ethnic in Southwest China
Chapter 1: Obscurity, Oddity, and Icon: The Emergence of the Giant Panda as Animal and Image
Chapter 2: Nation Building and the Nature of Communist Conservation
Chapter 3: The Winding Road to Wanglang: Creating a Panda Reserve
Chapter 4: Pandas Are Red: The Cultural Revolutionary Rise of the Panda as Brand and Symbol
Chapter 5: Panda Diplomacy: Animal Ambassadors and the Wild Population
Chapter 6: Rescuing the Panda from a Reforming China
Chapter 7: Coloring the Panda with an Ethnic Touch: Monitoring Pandas and Ecotourism
Chapter 8: Olympic Pandas, Trojan Pandas, and the Science Behind Soft Diplomacy
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E. Elena Songster is Associate Professor of History at St. Mary's College of California.