“The Epic of the Pandas”

Fang Min’s The Epic of the Pandas is a unique work. It is, in its publishers’ words, “the first literary description of the historical relationship between pandas and humanity”. Fang spent more than a decade writing this 400-page book, beginning in 1996, when she first saw a panda.

Her sponsorship by the National Forestry Bureau and the environmental organisation WWF meant that she had full access to investigate and interview, and so the volume covers a wider range, and in more depth, than similar works.

Fang’s book reports the story of humanity and pandas in great detail. A number of those working with pandas – including Dong Zhiyong, Liu Weixin, Hu Jinchu, Pan Wenshi, Lu Zhi, Zeng Zhou, Li Wuke and Zhang Heping – have been interviewed. Some of these experts are now in their later years, so the interviews in these pages are of considerable historical value. Fang also includes a review of the events in Chinese history that have had an impact on the pandas. Ample material is provided, along with descriptions of the author’s encounters with wild pandas. The style of writing and the creativity she shows are of a very high standard.

However, there are some faults. The book seems almost too literary and lacks the penetration of a genuinely good work. Details are sometimes presented in a disordered manner and the language and chapters appear confused, with no clear point of view and a slight lack of depth of thought. I had hoped that the author would have dealt more strongly with real problems that China faces, but in this aspect the book is weak.

All the same, The Epic of the Pandas is still one of the few current environmental literary works worth reading, particularly because of the author’s first-hand material and long period of research.

The Epic of the Pandas
Fang Min
Chongqing Press, 2008

— By Feng Yongfeng