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Yang, D.;  Lin, C.A. Giant Pandas for Wildlife Conservation and Global Diplomacy. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 15 April 2024).
Yang D,  Lin CA. Giant Pandas for Wildlife Conservation and Global Diplomacy. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed April 15, 2024.
Yang, Dongdong, Carolyn A. Lin. "Giant Pandas for Wildlife Conservation and Global Diplomacy" Encyclopedia, (accessed April 15, 2024).
Yang, D., & Lin, C.A. (2022, November 23). Giant Pandas for Wildlife Conservation and Global Diplomacy. In Encyclopedia.
Yang, Dongdong and Carolyn A. Lin. "Giant Pandas for Wildlife Conservation and Global Diplomacy." Encyclopedia. Web. 23 November, 2022.
Giant Pandas for Wildlife Conservation and Global Diplomacy

Over the past years, the giant panda has received adoration from people around the world and became the symbol of the World Wildlife Fund in 1961. As a wildlife conservation symbol, the giant panda’s ability to promote environmental sustainability cannot be under-estimated. As such, this lovable creature has also afforded the People’s Republic of China a wildlife diplomacy venue to promote its cultural relatedness, normalcy, and peacefulness as part of its nation branding strategies.

wildlife conservation source credibility nature relatedness emotional contagion nation branding

1. Introduction

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has long been undertaking panda diplomacy to improve China’s image in the international arena [1]. What remains unclear is whether global community’s love towards the giant panda can translate into a more positive attitude towards China. The current research will review and explicate how a symbol of wildlife conservation can be utilized to benefit the nation-branding objective of a country, utilizing the theories of source credibility [2], nature relatedness, and emotional contagion [3].

2. Wildlife Diplomacy

Branding is a marketing strategy that aims at building a positive relationship between a company and its customers [4]. Similarly, nation branding is based upon the assumption that the international community, like consumers, will develop a favorable attitude toward a country after being exposed to likable or admirable aspects of its culture [5]. Nation branding involves using cultural resources to develop positive emotions in information recipients, which then turn into favorable attitudes toward the country itself [5]. For instance, Australia has been conducting koala diplomacy, and as observed by prior researchers [6], the cuddly koala serves as “a buffer against more critical news coming from this country” (p. 630)
Anholt [7] suggests that a nation should focus on narrating their specificity to construct its competitive and unique identity. Taking advantage of this “specificity,” iPanda was launched as a public diplomacy initiative in August 2013 by China Network Television—the Internet branch of the biggest Chinese state-owned television network—to live stream the activities of multiple panda conservation sites to a global audience. By November, 2022, iPanda has attracted over 25 million followers on Facebook. One of its signature Facebook videos recorded 800 million views [8]. Of iPanda’s Facebook followers, 43.8% are English speakers, and 60% of them explicitly expressed positive emotions towards the pandas in their comments [9].

3. Source Credibility

Source credibility theory [2] posits that audiences will be more easily persuaded if they perceive a message source to be credible. This type of positive response toward a credible message source has been evidenced by the emotional pleasure that consumers experienced from processing the advertisement content endorsed by social media influencers and celebrities with high perceived credibility [10][11]. Similarly, Pan [12] found that messages from a nonprofit organization about healthy diets led to higher source credibility perceptions and less negative emotional responses than the messages from a corporate source.

Recent marketing research has suggested that positively framed messages from a more credible source could lead individuals to hold the most positive attitudes toward the messages themselves as well as encouraged them to engage in environmentally friendly activities [13]. By extension, a more credible source that promotes a wildlife conservation message within a cultural context will likely facilitate a more positive audience attitude toward the conservation efforts and the culture that values those efforts. Given the generally negative view of the Chinese government among Americans [14], conservation messages sourced from the Chinese government could likely be perceived as propaganda [15]—when compared to a non-government entity such as National Geographic—which is a widely respected nonprofit organization that promotes science and conservation (ranked as the 20th most trust brand in the U.S. in 2020) [16].

4. Nature Relatedness

According to the  biophilia hypothesis [17], human beings are inclined to be affectively, cognitively, and physically connected with the wilderness, animals, and natural resources, due to their need to survive in the natural world [18]. Nature relatedness could also influence people's moods, emotions, and affect toward their natural surroundings [19]. In particular, nature  relatedness can prime people to become more empathetic toward animals [20] and concerned about wildlife conservation.
For example, when a just released rescued chimp ran back to hug Dr. Jane Goodall, the story garnered international media coverage and struck a chord emotionally with the worldwide audience; the corresponding video also went viral on the Internet [21]. Likewise, even nature videos taken in the local arboretum were effective in enhancing an individual’s connectedness with and positive emotions toward nature [22]. Hence, an individual’s sense of nature relatedness could be linked to the emotional response toward the release of animals back into the wild by an animal conservation and/or rehabilitation center [23].
Nature relatedness also reflects a social and cultural identity that constitutes people’s sense of self. This is because at the core of nature relatedness is empathy, defined as “imaginative, intellectual and emotional participation in another person’s experience” [24] (p. 66). As empathy can lead to awareness, understanding, and appreciation of cultural differences without being judgmental, it is a prerequisite for intercultural interaction and the subsequent intercultural adaptation [25]. Hence, it is logical to anticipate that nature-loving individuals may also have a more positive attitude toward China, owing to their empathy toward the giant pandas and appreciation of the Chinese culture which advocates panda conservation. 

5. Emotional Contagion 

Emotional contagion is defined as “the tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another person’s and, consequently, to converge emotionally” [3] (pp. 153–154). The emotional contagion effect can occur when the “entity or essence” of a source is transferred to the target and the contagious properties remain as part of the target [26]. For example, positive emotional response toward the immersive cultural experiences provided by digital technology and live art performances at the 2010 Shanghai Expo resulted in higher visitor evaluations of its “nation-branding” efforts [27] .
As stated above, nature relatedness can elicit an individual’s emotional response toward the wildness and wildlife [19]. People with higher levels of nature relatedness are more likely to have “an other-oriented emotional response congruent with the perceived welfare” of wildlife [28] (p. 621). For example, the image of the polar bear as a vulnerable species has coincided with Americans’ empathy for wildlife and reinforced the importance of wildlife conservation [29]. Therefore, it is reasonable to anticipate that people’s love for the giant panda can be transferred to a more favorable attitude toward wildlife conservation activities—endorsed by the Chinese culture and by extension its people—and then the Chinese government.

6. Persuasive Communication

Previous research has identified the iPanda website as a persuasive communication tool [30] to help showcase China's efforts to protect the giant pandas and their habitats to the world. The persuasive effect of a message can depend on how the audience evaluates the message content [31] and the credibility of the message source [2]. In 2021, China declared that the giant panda’s wild population has almost doubled since the 1980s and the status of its survival in the wild has been downgraded from “endangered” to “vulnerable,” owing to 30 years of government-led recovery efforts [32]. Still, critics have illuminated the tension between protecting the pandas for promoting their ecological importance and advancing China’s cultural/political objectives [33].

Research that studied Americans’ attitudes toward China often conflates the notion of “country” and “people” as one [34]. Yet, public perception of a country’s government is not necessarily equivalent to their perception of the country’s culture or people [35]. For instance, Americans who expressed an interest in Chinese culture also exhibited a lower tendency to evaluate China negatively when it failed its international responsibility (e.g., not honoring the international treaties/agreements and its voting behavior in the UN Security Council) [36].

As commented by international relations scholars, biodiversity may serve as one of the few environmental issues that China will potentially show its soft power and exert influence on the world stage [37]. Based on the researchers' theoretical and empirical synthesis above, it is reasonable to anticipate that if the emotional contagion effect occurs between the love for the giant panda and the conservation effort transcended by the Chinese culture, then a positive association between Chinese culture and Chinese people is likely to emerge and to help cultivate a positive attitude toward the Chinese government.


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