Giant pandas are only found in China; they are very rare, and are even scientifically proven to have outrageously cute features. They are, essentially, the perfect secret weapon for China to woo other countries with, helping them appear soft and friendly as they rise as a world superpower. This may come as no surprise, considering that gift-giving in general is considered good etiquette in China and other parts of Asia; in many of these cultures, gifts communicate respect, hospitality, and friendship.
China has been gifting pandas since the Tang Dynasty 1,300 years ago. But in the 1990s, the government decided that it would no longer give its pandas away but loan them out instead. These panda loans typically last ten years at a cost of US$1 million per year, and establishments must also bear the cost of food and general upkeep. The expense is worth it, however, because of the resulting ‘pandamonium’—causing visitor numbers and revenues for some zoos to surge.
The switch from gifting pandas to loaning them has not made panda diplomacy any less prestigious, and recipients are still strategically selected. In recent years, many of these loans have coincided with major trade deals between China and recipient countries—from uranium, to food and healthcare. Other loans have been interpreted as power plays, such as when China gifted giant pandas to Hong Kong and Taiwan, both Chinese territories with strained relationships with the mainland.
Today, there are over 50 giant pandas in more than 20 countries and territories outside mainland China.
Explore the map to see which countries have giant pandas from China—and why.