A tollgate on the Chengdu-Ya'an Expressway decorated with pandas. (HUANG LERAN / FOR CHINA DAILY)
Although it is more comfortable to take a bullet train to Ya'an, Sichuan province, Qi Meng, a panda fan in Chengdu, the provincial capital, likes driving to the famous city to take panda photos.
It was through Ya'an that the Western world learned about the giant panda in 1690 after the French missionary Jean Pierre Armand David mailed a panda specimen to the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris.
The Bifengxia base of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Ya'an boasts many pandas in different age groups.
"Driving along the Chengdu-Ya'an Expressway is a feast for the eye, with so many images of pandas," said Qi, who started taking panda photos in 1992.
Driving along the Chengdu-Ya'an Expressway is a feast for the eye, with so many images of pandas.
Qi Meng, a panda fan in Chengdu
The 144-kilometer expressway, part of a new Sichuan-Tibet highway that will extend from Chengdu to Lhasa in Tibet, is known as China's first panda-themed expressway, according to Gao Jianming, deputy director of the general office of Sichuan Chengyu Expressway's Chengya branch.
In late 2019, the branch capitalized on Sichuan's reputation as the home of most of China's pandas.
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Since then, passengers on the expressway have been bombarded with images and information about pandas.
They can see statues of pandas along greenbelts, the statue of a lively panda lolling its tongue out on the top of a building, and images of pandas on the top of a tollgate.
"At the Xinjin service area (in Xinjin, a county in Chengdu), people can see the pandas that were the mascots of the Beijing Asian Games in 1990 and the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008," Qi said. "There they also learn from an exhibition board that pandas played an important role in China's exchanges with foreign countries. Eighteen of the 24 pandas China sent to foreign countries as national gifts came from Ya'an."
The panda has also boosted the tourism sector in Ya'an.
"They used to only answer the call of nature in service areas. Now they can take photos of panda statues, pose for photos in front of the panda statues and learn information about pandas," said He Jing, an official with the Ya'an North Toll Station.
Xie Hanmei, an official with the culture and tourism bureau of Ya'an, said the number of tourists in the city has risen due to the promotion of its pandas.
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