"Maybe the Giant Panda, a byword for endangered icons if ever there was one, is on safer ground. In the 1960s and '70s the nearly extinct creature, together with some acrobatic ping-pong players, emerged as a notable asset in the diplomatic arsenal of the beleaguered People's Republic. Much sought after by zoos worldwide, the pandas, especially females, were freely bestowed on deserving heads of state. The presentations were described as 'friendship gestures', and experimental breeding was encouraged as if a successful issue might somehow cement the political entente. But not any more. From sparse references in classic texts such as the 'Book of Documents' a pedigree of undoubted antiquity has been constructed for the panda and a standard name awarded to it. Now known as the Daxiongmao or 'Great Bear-Cat', its habits have been found sufficiently inoffensive to merit its promotion as a 'universal symbol of peace'; its numbers have stabilised, perhaps increased, thanks to zealous conservation; and lest anyone harbour designs on such a national paragon, no longer may Giant Pandas be expatriated. All are Chinese pandas. Foreign zoos may only lease them, the lease being for ten years, the rental fee around $2 million per annum, and any cubs born during the rental being deemed to inherit the nationality of their mother - and the same terms of contract. Like its piebald image as featured in countless brand logos, the Giant Panda has itself become a franchise."
John Keay, China, Basic Books, Copyright 2009 by John Keay, pp. 1-3.