I receive an e-mail each week from All Music Guide about new releases, and it appears that Hot Panda has a new LP out this week called Volcano ... Bloody Volcano. Who's Hot Panda, you ask? Who cares! AMG says they're a Canadian band, but all I care about is that pandas are hot hot hot right now! I'll spare you any "panda-monium" jokes, but— oh, who am I kidding, no I won't ... IT'S TOTAL PANDA-MONIUM RIGHT NOW!!!!!! (I need something, anything to take my mind off the economy.)
Kung Fu Panda grossed $215 million last summer, and a sequel is planned for 2011. But the animated film did cause some controversy in China last year. On July 8 a blogger named Mu wrote on Sina.com, "Although the 'theft' of the Chinese symbol of the panda gives us pain, at least it makes the Chinese movie industry consider why we are always one step behind in globalizations [sic] war of creation." Creation. (Hunh!) Good God, y'all, what is it good for? Well, it's helped give evolution a run for its money in religious debates, but aside from that, absolutely nothing.
Last November the Associated Press reported that a Chinese college student jumped the fence of a panda's habitat in Qixing Park, a tourist attraction in the town of Guilin, "hoping to get a hug." The panda, Yang Yang, bit the 20-year-old student in the arms and legs. As the student later explained in the hospital, "Yang Yang was so cute and I just wanted to cuddle him. I didn't expect he would attack." The AP didn't say if the student was drunk when he went for the hug or if he was still drunk when he spoke to the press in the hospital, but I guarantee there are easier ways to impress your frat brothers, no matter what hemisphere you live in.
The AP report continues: "Last year, a panda at the Beijing Zoo attacked a teenager, ripping chunks out of his legs, when he jumped a barrier while the bear was being fed. The same panda was in the news in 2006 when he bit a drunken tourist who broke into his enclosure and tried to hug him while he was asleep. The tourist retaliated by biting the bear in the back."
That panda's name is Gu Gu, and according to an AP article from September of 2006, "Zhang Xinyan, from the central province of Henan, drank four jugs of beer at a restaurant near the zoo before visiting Gu Gu." When he touched the panda it bit him on the right leg, which made him angry, so he kicked the panda, which then bit his other leg. That's when Zhang put his teeth in Gu Gu's back. As he told the Beijing Morning Post, "Its skin was quite thick."
Zhang had seen pandas on TV before and noticed that "they seemed to get along well with people." This is true, but once the cameras are off they're like Christian Bale all of a sudden if you don't leave them alone. You can't buy into the lie these pandas perpetrate when they're acting. Besides, many people—and animals—don't like to be hugged by strangers. If your hug is refused, don't get angry about it. Just walk away. If that person or animal is famous, like Gu Gu, you can retaliate later on your blog by saying what a jerk the celebrity was.
"No one ever said they would bite people," Zhang told the Beijing Youth Daily. "I just wanted to touch it." But, he added, "I was so dizzy from the beer. I don't remember much." In Zhang's defense, I said the same thing after attending a midnight "brew 'n' view" screening of Kung Fu Panda last summer with my four-year-old niece. Or was it WALL-E? Like I said ... (Gu Gu struck again last month when a man jumped in his pen to retrieve his son's toy. Tools had to be used to remove Gu Gu's jaws from the man's legs. The lesson? The kid eventually would've stopped screaming about his toy. It was probably only worth a couple bucks, which won't cover the hospital bills for permanent ligament damage.)
In July we received a press release at my former job for Chicago author Jian Ping's Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. It says that one of the "compelling themes" of the book is "the triumph of breaking the chains of conformity and embracing free thought and independence." Yes! That's exactly what those panda huggers were doing! Of course they couldn't have broken those chains of conformity without the help of alcohol, so it's particularly interesting that Mulberry Child's author "works as National Director/Tsingtao Beer for the US importer of the brand. Her business dealings with the Tsingtao Brewery has taken her back and forth to China several times a year for twenty years, keeping her abreast with the development of China today and in close contact with her family members." It's also kept her in close contact with drinkers like Zhang and that college student, who clearly owe Jian Ping a debt of gratitude for their newfound free thinking, if not their scars.
(Side note: I would've called her "Ms. Ping" just then, but is she "Ms. Jian" if she lives in the U.S. now? I've never been sure about the proper use of Chinese surnames, and the press release for Mulberry Child is no help: it calls her "Jian Ping" over and over again. I wish people would call me "Robert Cass" whenever they address me, the way athletes like Rickey Henderson have addressed themselves in third person whenever they're being interviewed.)
(Side note #2: The name of this blog, Mulberry Panda 96, has nothing to do with China. It's a combination of three things that hold sentimental value for me, but Kung Fu Panda did come out on June 6, or 6/6, last year, and if you turn a 6 counterclockwise it becomes a 9. If you want to give me credit for saying China is repeatedly turning back the clock on progress, go right ahead, but I have noticed that a 9 and a 6 side by side look like yin and yang going their own way instead of chasing each other's tails.)
After the Olympics ended in August, Time magazine's Simon Elegant (now there's a name that should be repeated in full whenever he's addressed) wrote about Chinese society being at a potential turning point, noting that during the Olympics a Chinese biweekly magazine named Southern Window had this headline on its August 11 cover: "Rule of Law Starts with Limitation of Power." Simon Elegant (see?) commented that in China a headline like that is "almost revolutionary."
The same IMDB news item from July that mentioned the "war on creation" comment on Sina.com reported that a cultural-affairs committee in China's parliament had concluded "the government ought to relax its oversight" on film production in the country; only then can films like Kung Fu Panda be made there. Maybe, but how many feature-length animated films has China produced? Hasn't it accomplished much more in the realm of human rights violations? (I kid, I kid. Put the bamboo down.)
I'd be happy if they simply allowed filmmakers like Wong Kar-wai to create whatever they please, because Wong's Chungking Express (1994), which was made in Hong Kong just a few years before the UK gave control of the territory back to China, is one of my favorite films. I saw it for the first time in the spring of '97, a year after its initial American release (thanks to the efforts of Quentin Tarantino, a fan of Wong's movies) but only a few months before the July 1 handover of Hong Kong to China. It's one of the best romances I've seen, even though it doesn't feature any pandas, animated or otherwise, or panda biters, drunk or otherwise.