Berlin zoo rejects naming panda cubs ‘Hong’ and ‘Kong’ after reports draw netizens' ire

By Zhang Hui and Liu Xuanzun Source:Global Times Published: 2019/9/9 16:38:40

Panda Meng Meng with one of her cubs. Photo: courtesy of Zoo Berlin

The Berlin zoo said it wishes to "fundamentally distance itself" from reports on naming of the panda cubs "Hong" and "Kong" as enraged Chinese netizens called on the country's panda institute to terminate its cooperation with Germany. 

The Berlin-based newspaper Tagesspiegel recently conducted a poll asking its readers for name suggestions for the panda twins born at Zoo Berlin on August 31. The names "Hong" and "Kong" topped the newspaper's poll. Other choices included "Joshua Wong Chi-fung" and "Agnes Chow Ting," two secessionist leaders. 

Bild, another Germany media outlet, also appealed to Berliners to choose Hong and Kong as the cubs' names, a move to apparently support radical protesters in Hong Kong. 

The poll has angered many Chinese netizens on social media platforms since last week. Many netizens on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo said "we don't accept such names," and "please bring our pandas back." 

"Giant pandas belong to China, please don't politicize them in pursuit of ulterior motives," one netizen commented. 

Some netizens also criticized German media for misleading readers in its reporting of events in Hong Kong.  

"We want to fundamentally distance ourselves from these reports on the naming of the panda twins," reads an email Zoo Berlin sent to the Global Times on Monday.

Zoo Berlin will choose appropriate names for the baby pandas together with Chinese partners from Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, the zoo said, noting that while they have not exchanged ideas on any special name suggestion, every decision will be made after close discussion with the Chinese colleagues.

"We are very proud to have Meng Meng and Jiao Qing [parents of the baby pandas] as special envoys of China, and we are very happy about the births of the little pandas," the zoo said, adding that the little pandas are growing very well and very agile.

The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding told the Global Times on Monday that the base is ultimately responsible for naming the pandas that are born overseas, but did not reveal additional details.  

Diao Kunpeng, a panda expert with the Beijing-based NGO Shan Shui Conservation Center, said naming pandas born overseas is usually based on a consensus reached between the overseas zoo and the panda base in China, but the Chengdu base has the final say. 

"Politicizing panda's names is highly inappropriate, and I believe the Chengdu base will not agree," Diao said. 

Experts also slammed German media outlets for making irresponsible remarks on Hong Kong affairs and interfering in China's internal affairs. "Their schemes will never succeed," Diao said. 

Adored by people around the world, giant pandas are often used as goodwill ambassadors to promote friendship between China and other countries. The Chengdu panda base has conducted scientific research breeding programs with seven countries including Japan, the US, Germany and Denmark, according to the base.

"China with its experience in raising pandas and Western countries, such as the US, with their advanced technologies might jointly conduct genetic or behavioral research on pandas," Diao said. 

The German media's naming suggestion for the pandas was made before Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung's scheduled German visit this week, which according to media reports will include attending events organized by Bild.

Wong, who was mocked by Chinese netizens as "political clown" trying to curry favor with foreign forces, was arrested at the Hong Kong international airport on Sunday for breaching travel restrictions included in the terms of his bail. He was released on bail on Monday morning. 

Zhao Yusha contributed to this story

Newspaper headline: Berlin zoo rejects naming panda cubs 'Hong' and 'Kong'

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