Ken Layne stirs the pot over at Wonkette, insisting that China's government is forcing middle-aged Americans to clean up panda poop -- an exercise in transnational humiliation.
Layne argues that the scatological expedition (which, for those keeping score, was arranged by the scoopers themselves) is like China's decision to recall Tai Shan from the National Zoo and efforts to undervalue its currency: a deliberate attempt to gain the upper hand in the Sino-American relationship.
Like most satire, Layne's piece has a grain of truth to it. There has certainly been evidence of Chinese muscle-flexing in recent months. And why shouldn't China want the upper hand? Nobody actually prefers riding the bench to being starting quarterback.
Now I like a good panda poop joke as much as the next girl. But let's focus for a moment on what a smart PD move this is. The women who traveled across the Pacific to collect Tai Shan's scat actually paid for the privilege, volunteering through the Bifenxia panda research center. According to the Washington Post, "The program was designed to give foreign donors a hands-on look at the center, but has since been opened up to all tourists."
The program (private sector take note!) takes advantage of the panda's cache to attract donor-tourist-volunteers, garnering funding, cheap labor and fabulous PR. Innovation! Conservation! Goodwill generation! This program has it all.
Further capitalizing on the panda's popularity, China recently announced the names of six winners of its search for "Pambassadors" to spread the good word about the adorable bamboo-guzzlers. The Wall Street Journal reports that the winners were selected from the U.S., France, Sweden, Taiwan, China and Japan. Guess they think the odds of ambassadorial pandacide are slim.
China's working hard to protect the panda and promote its image at home and abroad. Whether it translates into positive foreign attitudes or not remains to be seen. As always, it's important to remember the role of foreign and domestic policy in shaping public opinion abroad. To that end, a little currency revaluation could go a long way.