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Secret files: Thatcher's Cabinet plea for giant panda

One of the British Government's previously hidden files, released as 20-year rule transition begins

A plea for a fertile female giant panda plus crib notes titled "A Hasty Guide To The History of China" were part of prime minister Margaret Thatcher's preparations to visit China in 1982, government records released today disclose.

Cabinet secretary Robert Armstrong jotted down a reminder that London Zoo would quite like to get a fertile female giant panda from her trip in September 1982.

He recalled that a pair of giant pandas had been presented to former prime minister Edward Heath during his visit eight years earlier. "Unfortunately the female is highly unlikely ever to breed" although the male has "proved his fertility," he noted.

"London Zoo would clearly like to have a fertile female and, in due course, a baby panda."

To help her brush up on her Chinese knowledge there was a guide which provided a sweeping briefing of China dating from "prehistory" and the times before Christ (BC), through the nation's various dynasties and up to 1945.

The information is included in government files that have been released at the National Archives.

Official briefing notes, issued ahead of her talks with the Chinese government, show the Conservative leader was warned that politician Deng Xiaoping would be "older and deafer, though still alert".

Others she may meet included Hu Yaobang who "still lacks political stature, particularly with the army, but he is a force to be reckoned with". It is also noted that premier Zhao Ziyang had "gained in stature and confidence".

The file covers Mrs Thatcher's meeting with Deng and Zhao Ziyang on the future of Hong Kong.

This was a "sensitive and immediate" situation needing official talks to reach an agreement on arrangements for the administration and control after 1997.

The desire was to meet "the wishes of China, Britain and the people of Hong Kong and preserve its prosperity," the file says.

Deng reportedly said he was "very sorry" but "hoped we would understand that sovereignty over the entire area including Hong Kong Island and Kowloon would be recovered by 1997. That was certain. China had no other choice".

On a personal note Britain's only female head of government had wanted a thank you letter to be sent to a worker at the embassy who had stopped her from suffering a bad hair day.

Among the letters of thanks, detailed in a September 24 1982 letter from Mrs Thatcher's Downing Street office, was a note stating: "A person in the Embassy whom you may not have met and who made a special contribution to the visit is Miss Elaine Robertson, who kindly lent her Carmen rollers to Mrs Thatcher."

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