The decision by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History to preserve the giant panda Hsing-Hsing has raised controversy. Up until Hsing-Hsing’s death last week, he was housed in Washington’s National Zoo, given as a gift from the People’s Republic of China in 1972.
The panda is historically significant and rare – only about 1,000 are estimated to be living in the mountains of China. Opponents of the museum’s decision to display Hsing-Hsing contend that stuffing the panda is a crude and tasteless way of immortalizing the animal. If the museum wants to educate people about this endangered species, perhaps something else could be done in Hsing-Hsing’s honor – a model panda is already on display.
After President Richard Nixon’s historical visit in 1972, which opened diplomatic relations with the communist republic, the Chinese government donated the panda and its mate Ling-Ling as a gesture of good will.
The pair became major attractions at the National Zoo, while developing an adoring following of all ages. Ling-Ling died of heart failure in 1992. After 28-year-old Hsing-Hsing was euthanized Nov. 30, mourners sent flowers and cards, and delegates from the Chinese Embassy came to the zoo to give condolences.
The decision to display Hsing-Hsing, who was extremely ill at the time of its death, is senseless and cruel. Hsing-Hsing already has a place in the hearts of many people around the world without a stuffed version. Hsing-Hsing was on display almost its entire life. Perhaps the nation should let this beloved panda rest.