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First lady visits China’s pandas

First lady Michelle Obama wrapped up her week-long tour of China on Wednesday with a visit to a panda nursery.

Obama, joined by her mother and daughters, visited a research base in China’s Sichuan province that is home to 128 giant pandas.

While there, they observed six of the endangered bears in a pit chomping on bamboo and playing in the grass. At one point, the first lady used a long pole to serve the pandas slices of apple over a barrier.

The first lady also got to see and hold baby pandas that were about eight months old, and then the family walked through an area filled with red pandas — a smaller species of the bear.

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In a blog post about the trip, Obama said she spent time reflecting on the history of pandas and diplomacy during her tour.

“It’s a tradition that dates back at least to the seventh century, and over the past few decades, panda diplomacy has been part of how China has reached out to other nations,” the first lady wrote. “Since the 1950s, China has given pandas to countries like France, Japan, Great Britain, Mexico, and the United States. It’s a goodwill offering – a way to reach out and build a connection between two countries and their people.”

“It shows that even for nations as big, complex and different as the United States and China, small gestures can mean a great deal,” she continued. “They can bring people together and help them form bonds that can stretch across the globe – and in our modern world, where we can connect with someone on the other side of the world with the click of a button, we all have an opportunity to make those small gestures in our own lives.”

The Chengdu Research Base is situated on an ancestral homeland to the endangered bears, and was the birthplace of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, a pair of giant pandas at the National Zoo in Washington. Last year, the first lady announced the winner of a contest to name Mei Xiang's new baby cub — Bao Bao, which means “treasure” or “precious.”