The three-year-old female panda, which is often called “Princess Fu,” attracts thousands of visitors every day to her home in Panda World at Korea’s largest amusement park Everland, located in Yongin, Gyeonggi-do Province. The total number of visitors has doubled since the beginning of May, according to the park. Its official YouTube channel recently garnered more than 1 million subscribers thanks to the popularity of videos that have been uploaded since she was a baby. Fubao’s photo essay book, published in 2021, has sold 24,000 copies to date and panda-related goods like dolls and bags are flying off the shelves.
Sizzling summer temperatures are apparently not a major obstacle for those eager to see the adorable animal with its black and white markings. Whenever she eats bamboo or sleeps on an ice bed, a crowd forms to capture those moments with their cameras in the same way fans surround A-list celebrities caught doing mundane things in public. Among them are Chinese tourists, who want to catch a glimpse of the panda born in Korea.
“I came here with four friends to see Fubao,” Ding Wenqian, a 27-year-old woman from Shanghai told Korea Here & Now on August 18. She visited Everland before attending a K-pop concert featuring boy band Infinite. “Fubao is so cute. She’s very popular in China, and I often use her emoticons when chatting with my friends. Since I’m in Korea, I felt that I must meet this baby panda.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping presented Korea two giant pandas as a state gift in 2016. This pair, the father Lebao and mother Aibao produced a cub in July 2020, and Fubao became the first panda born in Korea through natural breeding.
However, she has to return to China soon to find a mate. Everland said that the number of visitors to Panda World seems to have soared largely because people are flocking to see Fubao before she heads to China.
But that is not the only reason behind the “Fubao craze.”
“Fubao looks very happy with the zookeepers,” Ding said. “I think they are good friends who share a special bond.”
As Ding noted, Fubao’s intimate relationship with zookeepers Kang Cheol-won and Song Young-kwan is believed to have played a pivotal role in lifting Fubao’s popularity. For instance, a YouTube video showing Fubao linking her arm with Kang has surpassed a whopping 19 million views.
Their close-knit chemistry, which looks similar to that of a grandfather and granddaughter, has impressed people so much that even some Chinese are saying Fubao should stay longer in Korea.
“Zookeeper Kang takes care of Fubao so well,” reads one comment on YouTube. “It will be great if Fubao continues to stay by his side.”
Everland has uploaded hundreds of YouTube clips chronicling Fubao’s growth since her birth and offering a sneak peek into the life of the panda born amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Since social distancing restrictions kept people from visiting the amusement park at that time, the staff decided to share the daily lives of Fubao and her family on YouTube. And these turned out to be hugely popular, with the videos soon going viral.
Although it is disheartening to let Fubao go, zookeeper Kang, whose career spans more than three decades, says it is better for her to move to China and find a mate.
“People and animals have different definitions of happiness,” Kang said on cable channel tvN’s variety show, “You Quiz on the Block” in May 2023. “As a zookeeper, I want to view things from an animal’s perspective. Fubao will as always be my baby panda.”