The national animal of China is the giant panda. Entirely unknown in the west until 1869, giant pandas were a part of some of the first cultural exchanges between the U.S. and the People's Republic of China: so much so, that such exchanges were sometimes called "panda diplomacy."
Shy and reclusive by nature, the wild panda has always been a rare sight. The Chinese regarded it as a magical animal that would only appear during the reign of a benevolent and sincere monarch. While sharing its name with the red panda, which is more closely related to raccoons and weasels, the giant panda is a true bear. Its closest extant relative is the spectacled bear of South America.