The giant panda


23 Mar 2015

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People have been attracted by specific species (Goedeke, 2004). Regarding these specific species, Kellert (1996) analyzes that humans tend to be attracted to the species which has a large body and is able to walk, run, or fly. The giant panda Ailuropoda melanoleuca is one of the most famous among those attractive species (Lorimer 2007). The giant panda is a member of the Ursidae family and occurs in only three provinces in China (Reid and Gong 1999). The species is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List with the estimated population of no more than 1600 individuals (IUCN 2009).

In China, which is home to the giant panda, people express their willingness to pay (WTP) for the giant panda conservation, which is enough to conclude that this charismatic species is able to acquire their habitat (Kontoleon and Swanson 2003). In contrast to this economic point of view, Yang (2005) refers to the fact that little is known about Chinese people's perception of the giant panda, although several studies have been made on the general attitudes towards wildlife. Therefore, she studies the attitude of the public in China towards the giant panda. She analyzes the relationship between the attitudes of Chinese people towards the giant panda and the image of the species in the media, and concludes that the general attitude in China is likely to be associated with the symbolic and domestic value rather than ecological-scientific value. This corresponds with general Chinese attitudes towards wildlife and the image of the giant panda constructed by the media (Yang 2005). However, since this conclusion is drawn based on the literature review, it may not reflect people's actual attitudes. Thus, this attitude still needs to be studied.

This research aims to explore Chinese students' attitude towards the giant panda by semi- structured. This report consists of three sections. First, the research methods are presented including participant, the development of interview, questions, procedures, and an analysis. In the second section, the results from an analysis of the students' attitude are described. The final section of this paper discusses the insights of main finding and several limitations of this interview survey for further research.



Ten Chinese students at the University of Kent were interviewed for this study. The interview sample was composed of two male and eight female students, and of two undergraduate and eight postgraduate students. The students' majors were classified as follows: Conservation and Tourism, International Commercial Law, Human Resource Management, Accounting and Financial Management, European Culture and Language, International Business Management, and English Literature.

The respondents were recruited through personal contact with one Taiwanese and three Chinese students. The interviewer informed about the purpose, topic, structure, and length of the interview in advance to confirm participation (Sarantakos 2005). After a student agrees those conditions, the time and place for the interview was arranged.

The development of idea for interview questions and procedures

In order to standardize interview guides, a pilot survey was conducted at an initial stage (Newing in press). This pilot survey on November 1st through the skype revealed that the interview was difficult to answer and analyze owing to specific questions, thus, a half of questions were changed to improve the interview. The actual interview survey, approximately 25 minutes for each interview, was conducted from November 3rd to 20th.

The first interview was conducted with a student who has knowledge about the giant pandas to test modified questions and to develop the background of questions; hence, an unstructured interview was carried out at this time. In the second interview, the interviewee who was not familiar with the topic was chosen to confirm whether all questions in the interview were not difficult to answer for all interviewees. Since the student seemed uncomfortable to talk about an unfamiliar topic, the place was rearranged. In addition, in an effort to reduce uncomfortable constraints on the student, the interview was not recorded. Therefore, further interviews were recorded by note-taking to conduct in the same way as this second interview. Based on these first two interviews, the further questions and procedures of the interview were standardized.


This interview consists of six questions (see Appendix). The first question aimed to be a relatively easy question to talk about (Robson 2002; Newing in press). The second question was related to the first question, so that it was able to lead the interviewees to main topic of the interview. This question was one of main questions of this interview as well as the third, fourth, and fifth question. These questions were set to understand Chinese students' attitudes towards the giant panda. The final question was not directly related to the subject and it was supposed to be a simple question as a "cool-off" question. However, it was found at the development stage of this interview that this sixth question invited the further discussion about the relationship between the giant panda and Chinese people. Therefore, the question was kept in each interview.


This interview survey followed the procedure described by Robson (2002:277); "Introduction, warm-up, main body of interview, cool-off, and closure". In the introduction stage, interviewers and the students were introduced each other, and talked about their own courses at University of Kent as "warm-up". During the interview, it is weighted to elicit information to maximize the advantage of a semi-structured interview. Therefore, the depth of answer was varied between the questions and the answerers. It is also important to note that the interview was often stopped to clarify what the interviewee meant or answered. In some cases, it was confirmed at cool-off stage or after the interview by exchanging e-mail.


During the data collection, the interviewer tried to record annotations, memos, coding (Newing in press). At an initial stage of an analysis, the coding procedure was conducted followed the instruction described by Newing (in press: 218). As top codes, several values from Kellert's nine values (1996) (see Table 1) were employed as predefined codes. For sub-codes, the detailed information related to the defined top codes was identified. At next stage, the procedure suggested by Sarantakos (2005) was taken to develop from open-coding to the concept. However, the coding procedure for this interview description was not sufficient for axial, selective coding since top codes used at open-coding stage and core category were similar with each other.


All Chinese students showed their favourable attitudes towards the giant panda. It is likely that the species has a special meaning for Chinese students, and a good illustration of this is the answer that if the giant panda becomes extinct, it is going to be "chaos, I mean panic feeling". As in Yang's study (2005), the symbolic value seemed to play the important role in determining the attitudes towards giant pandas. However, unlike Yang's study (2005), the other five values, utilitarian, ecologistic-scientific, humanistic, moralistic, and negativistic values, are also the important factors on individual attitudes. In contrast to above values, three of nine values, naturalistic, aesthetic, and domestic value, were difficult to detect during the interview. The reasons for this are (1) in order to obtain information for understanding of Chinese students' naturalistic and aesthetic value, the follow up questions about students' experiences and view of nature should have been asked during the interview. However, these questions would carry us far away from the purpose of this paper, (2) the domestic value of the giant panda was hardly discussed throughout the survey, although Yang (2005) suggests that this value is also one dominant value in Chinese people attitudes towards the giant panda. From these two reasons, the detailed findings about only utilitarian, ecologistic-scientific, symbolic, humanistic, moralistic, and negativistic values will be described in following subsection.

Utilitarian value

Students indicated two types of answers regarding this value; for ecotourism and for diplomatic relations. Concerning ecotourism, some students mentioned that they would like to have giant pandas in their towns to attract tourists. This concept can be seen in the answer "the giant panda bring the money to our town". Moreover, a student illustrated the species as "money" when asked to choose one word for the giant panda. It was also mentioned that tourism for the giant panda is a benefit for the development of local villages by opening the road for the facilities, developing transportation service, and providing employment opportunities. The second type of answer was using the giant panda for diplomatic relations. Several words such as the "tool for diplomatic/international exchange", "gift for foreign countries", and "the advertisement for China" were used when interviewees explained the relationship between Chinese people and the giant panda.

Ecologistic-scientific value

All Chinese students showed their ecological knowledge about the giant panda, and their knowledge is supplied by environmental education, education in primary and middle school, media, and books. All respondents mentioned that the giant panda is endemic to China, thus, it is important to protect the species. One interviewee continued to say "we treat them as a treasure". It was also mentioned that the species requires specific diet and habitat to survive. Not all but most of Chinese students imply the population of the giant panda in wild was not stable and mentioned captive breeding to conserve the species. Moreover, two students expressed their concern about over-attention to the giant panda status in China. For instance, one student insisted that the giant panda was "just a bear" with the knowledge about the classification of the species and the rate of extinction for other species in the world. Their knowledge comes from various sources from formal education to movies. However two students did not remember how they learned about the giant panda since it was "common sense" for them.

Symbolic value

It is noteworthy that all Chinese students in this research described that the giant panda represents China with remarkably similar words such as "symbol of China", "stand for China", "pride of China" and "image of China". Three possible explanations for this answers were identified from interviewees' answers; (1) the giant panda only occurs in China, (2) the species represents Chinese people, for instance, one student chose the word "modest" for the giant panda, and this student referred to that the national animal represents the own culture and personality. Other student answered "identity" to explain the relationship between Chinese people and the giant panda. (3) In the Chinese mythology, it is assumed that Chinese people are children of the giant panda, which is told by one interviewee. It seems reasonable to suppose that the giant panda has the high symbolic value as national animal on the grounds that all students defined the species as the symbol of China.

Humanistic value

Interviewee tended to see giant pandas from an anthropomorphic view. Chinese students showed the feeling of love and strong attachment for this species. All students described the panda as "cute" at least once in the interview. Students illustrated this species by the words "lovely", "warm-hearted", "animal of love", "friendly", "funny", "honest" and "modest". In addition, their strong attachments for the giant panda can be seen the phrases such as "everyone cannot help falling love with Panda", "all Chinese like panda", "all people like panda", "he brings a lot of happiness", "I know them from my childhood, [so I will feel pity if they become extinct]", and "the panda has special meaning for us".

Moralistic value

Interviewees showed their concern about the giant panda. Of those who refused to have the species in their towns, all stated that they do not let the giant panda put in the difficult situation for survival because of unfavourable habitat. Furthermore, a specific question about the extinction of the giant panda was asked to explore students' attitudes towards the moralistic value. To this question, all interviewees indicated their concerns about the dying out of the giant panda. Two students stated that the giant panda should not become extinct owing to its intrinsic value as one species, as can be seen in the answer "they belong to the earth". Although these two students expressed their moralistic concern, the major reason for the other students might not be moralistic. The major reason why eight students opposed the extinction of the giant panda was the fact that the giant panda is an endemic species and the national animal.

Negativistic value

The ecological feature of the giant panda was the key to understand the negativistic value towards the species. Nine of ten Chinese students did not show their fear of the giant pandas. Some of them chose the word for or the image of the species such as "friendship", "friendly", "warm", "close to people", and "community". When they were asked the reason for using those words, they explained that the giant panda "eat only bamboo", "never attack people", "stay at mountains", and "do not compete with people for food resource". Based on these characteristic of the giant panda, nine students seemed not to express their fear. On the other hand, one student mentioned that giant pandas attack people "when they get furious".

Discussion and conclusion

This study set out to explore Chinese student's attitudes towards the giant panda and its result showed that generally students have strong favourable attitudes. It was also shown that the major values contributing to their attitudes were utilitarian, naturalistic, ecologistic-scientific, symbolic, humanistic, and moralistic. The most significant value among ten Chinese students at University of Kent was the symbolic value of the giant panda, which correspond with the Yang's study (2005).

There may be two reasons behind this answer; the anthropomorphic view towards the giant panda throughout history and the fact that the species is endemic to China. Regarding the anthropomorphic view, some students answer that the species represents Chinese personality. The other explanation is that the species is an ancestor of Chinese people in the mythology. These two explanations demonstrate that the anthropomorphic attitudes to the giant panda may lead to consider the species as the symbol of China. This anthropomorphism for the giant panda can be also seen in the humanistic value. In addition to an anthropomorphic view, the fact that the giant panda is endemic species in China can be the main factor of being the symbol of China. Students showed their understanding of the uniqueness of the giant panda such as habitat preference or specialist diet with their ecological knowledge, as described in the ecologistic-scientific value. Therefore, it could be assumed that the ecological features of the giant panda can be also one of major factors for identifying the symbol of China.

These two reasons provide more depth of the Chinese attitudes towards the giant panda than literature review conducted by Yang (2005). As she suggests, this study also found that the symbolic value plays the key role in determining the attitudes towards the giant panda, and that few students indicated the influence of the media. However, the behind of this attitudes, there are several factors, which related to the anthropomorphic view in their culture including the mythology, and the ecological knowledge from school education about giant pandas, according to this interview survey.

Moreover, it should be also noted that students revealed contradiction statements towards the giant panda. While interviewees showed their emotional attachment for the species, they also mentioned the use of the species as an attraction of tourist and the "tool" for the diplomatic relation. In this research, it is difficult to discuss this inconsistent stance of the students because of the lack of information.

More information on following points would help to establish a greater degree of accuracy on this matter; (1) the relevance of nine basic values towards the giant pandas to test whether the symbolic value is the most significant determinant, (2) the influential agencies, such as the media or school, to construct people's attitudes towards this species, or (3) further investigation of the contradictory attitudes towards the giant panda. However, for further research, it should be considered following difficulties this research faced. Firstly, at the design stage, sampling method and questions should be changed. This research did not used random sampling, thus, it might cause sampling bias. Concerning questions, although the main six questions were designed to be neutral and to avoid using simple and direct questions (Newing in press), follow-up questions which was improvisational question could cause error, bias or leading the answer. Thus, it is essential to conduct more pilot interviews until the interviewer become able to create proper follow-up questions during the interview. Secondly, at the interview stage, interviewer's skill was not ideal. Several errors might be included to some extent in this interview, such as recording error, instruction error, or leniency effect (Sarantakos 2005) which might cause student's inconsistent statement. Finally, at the analysis stage, to understand more depth of Chinese students' attitudes, an analysis of the detailed information and a coding of the data should be more sufficient at the interview stage (Newing in press; Pole and Lampard 2002). In this research, an analysis of the interview during data collection with annotations, memo, and coding was not sufficient for the in-depth analysis. In addition, the top codes used for the data sorting should be well-defined in the context of the answer. Even though the previous study used the same codes for an analysis of attitude survey, the coding followed previous survey might be subjective rather than objective.

In conclusion, returning to the aim posed at the beginning of this paper, it is now possible to state that ten Chinese students at University of Kent generally have favourable attitudes towards the giant panda. Although the symbolic value as the symbol of China plays the key role in the students' attitudes, it should be noted that the factors behind their answers are more various and complicated than the previous study described.

Literature Cited

  • Goedeke, T.L. 2004. In the eye of the beholder: Changing social perceptions of the Florida manatee. Society & Animals 12: 99-116.
  • IUCN (The International Union for Conservation and Nature and Natural Resources). 2009. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ailuropoda melanoleuca. Available from: [Accessed: 28th November 2009].
  • Kellert, S.R. 1996. The value of life: Biological diversity and human society. Island Press, Washington, DC.
  • Kontoleon, A. and T. Swanson. 2003. The willingness to pay for property rights for the giant panda: Can a charismatic species be an instrument for Nature Conservation? Land Economics 79: 483-499.
  • Lorimer, J. 2007. Nonhuman charisma. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 25: 911-932.
  • Newing, H. In press. Conducting Research in Conservation: A Social Science Perspective. Routledge, London.
  • Pole, C. and R. Lampard. 2002. Practical Social Investigation: Qualitative and quantitative methods in Social Research. Parsonal Education, London.
  • Reid, D. and J. Gong. 1999. Giant panda conservation action plan. Pages 241-254 in C. Servheen, S. Herrero and B. Peyton, editors. Bears. Status survey and conservation action plan. IUCN/SSC Bear and Polar Bear Specialist Groups, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
  • Robson, C. 2002. Real World Research: A Resource for Social Scientists and Practitioner-Researchers (Regional surveys of the world). 2nd edn, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford.
  • Sarantakos, S. 2005. Social Research. 3rd edn, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
  • Yang, L. 2005. Biosocial reciprocity in environmental communication: A study of giant panda conservation communication in China. MSc thesis, Texas A&M University, US.


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