We started our visit by viewing a group of five giant pandas who were about 18 months old, and we got to feed them (we attached apples to the end of a long stick, and they reached up and grabbed them with their hands and mouths). Next, we got to see some baby pandas that were about eight months old which are referred to as "yearlings," a term used to describe pandas less than one year old. They were so tiny -- like stuffed animals -- and later, I got the chance to hold one of these little guys! Finally, we walked through an area filled with red pandas, a different, smaller species of pandas that look sort of like raccoons.
As we learned about these pandas and their future, I also spent some time reflecting on their past. Believe it or not, pandas have actually played a leading role in world events over the past few decades through a custom known as "Panda Diplomacy." It's a tradition that dates back at least to the seventh century, and over the past few decades, panda diplomacy has been part of how China has reached out to other nations. Since the 1950s, China has given pandas to countries like France, Japan, Great Britain, Mexico, and the United States. It's a goodwill offering – a way to reach out and build a connection between two countries and their people.
That was certainly the case when China first offered America pandas back in 1972. At that time, there was extremely limited contact between our two governments. From 1949, when the communist party assumed power in China, up until 1979, the United States did not officially recognize the government of the People's Republic of China.