A close-up of Bao Bao eating bamboo at the National Zoo in Washington, Feb 21, 2017. (Photo/Xinhua)
A green-hued April day, 19-month-old giant panda cub Bei Bei was climbing a tree at the National Zoo in Washington D.C., the United States, drawing laughter from the crowds.[Special coverage]
"I started coming here way back to the 1970s when China gifted two (giant) pandas to Washington," Stephanie Smith, gray hair with a panda hat pin, was overjoyed by every move of Bei Bei at the giant panda house.
Smith is just one of the two million panda fans home and abroad coming to Washington to see giant pandas every year.
"They are just part of Washington like our First Family," said Smith. "They are such peaceful, wise creatures."
It was also an April day 45 years ago, when Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, carefully selected and given by the Chinese government as a gift to commemorate the groundbreaking handshakes between leaders from China and the United States that year, arrived at Washington, welcomed by around 8,000 Americans in the rain.
It was the first time that the Chinese government gave giant pandas as a gift to a Western country. The New York Times put it as front page news, saying that "zoo directors are bringing every kind of pressure to get one of the furry clowns with the black-patched white bodies and the black-ringed eyes."
The debut of Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing at the National Zoo attracted more than 20,000 people far and wide and the number of visitors for the first month was as many as 110,000, arousing not only Panda-mania across the country, but also interest in China among the American people.
The year of 1972 was marked as "the year of the panda" in the United States with "panda diplomacy" bringing closer the peoples from both sides of the Pacific Ocean. For four decades since then, giant pandas have remained a symbol of friendship between the two countries.
U.S.-born giant panda Bao Bao met the public for the first time in Chengdu in southwest China's Sichuan Province on March 24, a month after the 3-year-old female flew back to her home country on a charter flight from Washington.
U.S. Charge d'affaires David H. Rank told Xinhua after watching Bao Bao settling in her home that he thought the day meant so much to the cooperation between the U.S. and China, praising the cooperation between the two countries on scientific research and protection of endangered wildlife.
During her 16-hour trip to Chengdu, Bao Bao was accompanied by her American keeper Marty Dearie and Dr. Katharine Hope to ensure a smooth flight. She was greeted by Chinese experts immediately after landing at the Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport on Feb. 22.
"Upon arrival at the Dujiangyan panda base, Bao Bao walked into her new enclosure within one minute when her new keeper opened her travel crate door. She immediately started exploring and was very relaxed," Dearie wrote on the website of the U.S. National Zoo.
"Hopefully, in a few years our colleagues in China will share happy news with us that Bao Bao has become a mom," Dearie carried on.
Bao Bao, whose name means precious or treasure in Chinese, dubbed by fans as the world's cutest giant panda, was the first female born at the U.S. National Zoo, and has won hearts of numerous Americans since her birth. Her parents Mei Xiang and Tian Tian moved to the American zoo in 2000 under a collaboration agreement between China and the United States.
From 1984, China stopped giving giant pandas as gifts abroad and began to offer pandas to nations only on a 10-year loan. According to the agreement, panda cubs born in the United States to parents on loan from China must be returned to China before they are 4 years old.
China's ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai once wrote to the Washington Post that "it's very difficult for giant pandas to breed naturally, Chinese and Americans have been working on breeding them through artificial insemination".
U.S. State Department also called giant pandas as "a tangible and fluffy manifestation of cooperation between the United States and China".
Giant pandas are clearly envoys of China-U.S. friendship that endures time. Over the past four decades, as far as the pandas reached, it was always full of love and joy.
A recent example was with Bao Bao. Traveling with her were love and thinking from the American people.
"You will be forever with me Princess Pinky. I am so sad." Dawn LaValley said, calling herself Bao Bao's auntie. She sent a letter recently and a photo of her new arm tattoo, which is the head portrait of Bao Bao. "I feel so connected with you that I have a tattoo on my left arm of you."
The Chinese Embassy in Washington recently received a letter and two drawings from the Foltz family, saying that they wrote "in great appreciation" for sharing China's natural treasure, the giant panda with the American people.
Giant pandas are some of the world's most vulnerable and rare creatures, with a known population of only 1,600, mostly in China. The United States has the most giant pandas outside China, with 12 living in four cities as Washington, Atlanta, San Diego and Memphis.