WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – Pandas may be gentle giants in the natural world, but in the tense geo-political world of the Cold War, they were seen as potent propaganda tools for the Communist Chinese.

That’s why the CIA did everything it could to prevent China from cashing in on its cuddly cultural ambassadors.

The news comes in a news release from the Agency, which noted Treasury Secretary John Foster Dulles had issued strict bans against any good that originated from or passed through China, and that included the humble panda.

Not even an appeal to CIA director Alan Dulles in 1958 could sway the government from its panda blockade.

Dulles was asked by an exotic animal collector to make the case to his brother, then Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, but the answer remained no.

The government’s stance was not unwarranted. Since the first live panda had been brought to the United States in 1936, the furry animal had captured the popular imagination and become a potent political symbol.

Madame Chiang Kai-shek, wife of the leader of the Republic of China, had dispatched a pair of the bears to the Bronx Zoo in 1941. They arrived just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and became a symbol of a crucial wartime alliance.

Pandas remained banned until 1972, when President Nixon received Hsing Hsing and Ling Ling, special guests from the Chinese government after his visit to Beijing started the process of normalizing relations with China.

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