Column One: America mourns death of an adorable failure

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The Independent Online
THERE WAS weeping and wailing and much gnashing of bamboo in Washington yesterday as the awful news sank in: the nation's beloved Hsing- Hsing, the one incontrovertibly positive result of the meeting between Richard Nixon and Mao Tse-tung, is no more.

At 28 years old, Hsing-Hsing, who had suffered from kidney disease since May, was put to sleep - or, in the more brutal parlance of the zoo's official statement, "euthanised". Aside from that one terminological lapse, the zoo was concerned to let the nation know that everything that could have been done was done. "It became clear to us," said the associate curator of pandas and primates, "that we could not maintain his quality of life. Everything became an effort for him."

He was fed one last meal of sweet potatoes, bamboo shoots, rice porridge and a Starbucks blueberry muffin, before the fatal injection was administered and the notice posted: "Hsing Hsing was a gift of friendship and peace form the People's Republic of China to the people of the United States. He arrived with the female giant panda Ling-Ling on April 16, 1972. We will all miss him."

His remains were donated for panda research, but taxidermy has not been ruled out in the longer term.

Replacing Hsing-Hsing will not be easy. He and Ling-Ling, who died of heart failure, seven years ago, produced five cubs, none of which survived longer than a few days. Attempts to mate Hsing-Hsing with London's panda, Chia-Chia, ended in disaster when they defied the spirit of the times to make war not love. And now, in the brave new world of the global free market to which China is about to be admitted, pandas are bought and not given.

But the last word to a mourning nation belonged to Hsing-Hsing. In a note - concealed, according to The Washington Post, in the dead animal's straw - Hsing-Hsing bade his own farewell.

"I know, I know, I was adorable. That was my job ... Now I'm at the end of my life, I want everyone to know it wasn't always easy. There were days when I didn't want to be adorable, days when the bamboo was soggy, days when I endured all the whispers and gossip about being something less than Rudolph Valentino when it came to the mating game. But I was a professional, I carried on."

At least, he did until Sunday.