China-Taiwan Reunification? Not Tonight. I’ve Got a Headache.

Rob Schmitz Feb 11, 2011

Perhaps Yuan Yuan and Tuan Tuan weren’t the right names. But that’s what the Chinese government named a male and a female panda it loaned to Taiwan two years ago.

Like everything between the mainland and Taiwan, the decision was political: the two names, when combined, mean “reunion” in Chinese. The hope was that the two would form a union, so to speak, to create a little bundle of reunion that would bring the two ‘frenemy’ countries closer together. But according to today’s China Daily, Yuan Yuan and Tuan Tuan’s courtship has proved a miserable failure.

“Tuan Tuan shows more interest in bamboo roots than a female panda,” Panda expert Zhang Hemin told the Daily.

According to the article, “zoo keepers have tried to arouse Tuan Tuan’s ‘lustfulness’ by repeatedly having him listen to recorded noise of a female panda in heat,” but poor Tuan Tuan fell asleep. Frustrated, experts from the mainland flew to Taipei this week to artificially inseminate Yuan Yuan with Tuan Tuan’s sperm. If it’s successful, their cubs would be the first pandas born in Taiwan.

But is all this trouble an omen for the reunification of Taiwan and China? As a former freelance reporter in Chengdu, panda capital of China, I’ve reported my share of panda stories. I can attest to how difficult it is for panda breeders to get these overgrown fuzzballs to mate. This is, of course, one of the reasons this species is close to extinction. But in this case, you’ve got a backdrop of two major global powers trying to sort out their differences, decades of threats and negotiations, and a potential step towards peace for all mankind….that’s a lot of pressure to put on a panda.


Dispatch from China: Pandas and the Rural Economy
Managing editor George Judson reports from Panda country in China’s rural city of Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan Province where poor residents are struggling keep up with China’s roaring economy. View a slideshow.

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