The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal

The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal

Vicki Croke

Language: English

Pages: 400

ISBN: 0375759700

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Here is the astonishing true story of Ruth Harkness, the Manhattan bohemian socialite who, against all but impossible odds, trekked to Tibet in 1936 to capture the most mysterious animal of the day: a bear that had for countless centuries lived in secret in the labyrinth of lonely cold mountains. In The Lady and the Panda, Vicki Constantine Croke gives us the remarkable account of Ruth Harkness and her extraordinary journey, and restores Harkness to her rightful place along with Sacajawea, Nellie Bly, and Amelia Earhart as one of the great woman adventurers of all time.

Ruth was the toast of 1930s New York, a dress designer newly married to a wealthy adventurer, Bill Harkness. Just weeks after their wedding, however, Bill decamped for China in hopes of becoming the first Westerner to capture a giant panda–an expedition on which many had embarked and failed miserably. Bill was also to fail in his quest, dying horribly alone in China and leaving his widow heartbroken and adrift. And so Ruth made the fateful decision to adopt her husband’s dream as her own and set off on the adventure of a lifetime.

It was not easy. Indeed, everything was against Ruth Harkness. In decadent Shanghai, the exclusive fraternity of white male explorers patronized her, scorned her, and joked about her softness, her lack of experience and money. But Ruth ignored them, organizing, outfitting, and leading a bare-bones campaign into the majestic but treacherous hinterlands where China borders Tibet. As her partner she chose Quentin Young, a twenty-two-year-old Chinese explorer as unconventional as she was, who would join her in a romance as torrid as it was taboo.

Traveling across some of the toughest terrain in the world–nearly impenetrable bamboo forests, slick and perilous mountain slopes, and boulder-strewn passages–the team raced against a traitorous rival, and was constantly threatened by hordes of bandits and hostile natives. The voyage took months to complete and cost Ruth everything she had. But when, almost miraculously, she returned from her journey with a baby panda named Su Lin in her arms, the story became an international sensation and made the front pages of newspapers around the world. No animal in history had gotten such attention. And Ruth Harkness became a hero.

Drawing extensively on American and Chinese sources, including diaries, scores of interviews, and previously unseen intimate letters from Ruth Harkness, Vicki Constantine Croke has fashioned a captivating and richly textured narrative about a woman ahead of her time. Part Myrna Loy, part Jane Goodall, by turns wisecracking and poetic, practical and spiritual, Ruth Harkness is a trailblazing figure. And her story makes for an unforgettable, deeply moving adventure.

From the Hardcover edition.

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boulder-strewn Min River, we eventually found our way to the old stone village of Wenchuan, which had, in the intervening years, been eclipsed by a second, more modern city nearby with the same name. We entered what was left of the old perimeter walls, walking down the streets that Harkness had traveled so many years before. Some tall concrete towers were wedged in between older buildings now, and telephone poles jutted from the wet pavement. But still remaining were the warm, handsome old stone

learned that his father had died in a single-car crash in Arizona. “W. H. Harkness Dies in Crash in West: Former New York Lawyer's Wife Is Hurt in Auto Upset on Way to Los Angeles,” New York Times, 16 Nov. 1934. 21 His advancement was opposed Abend, “Rare 4-Pound ‘Giant’ Panda” 21 Early on, Bill met up According to Smith's letter to Keith Spalding, 5 Mar. 1936, Bill's first disappearance came just after the two had entered an agreement. 22 Smith signed on Elizabeth Smith to Ruth Woodhull

appeared barely able to stand. But it was common practice, ultimately providing much-needed work for desperately poor people. Nonetheless, she decided to walk on that first morning's hike, reasoning that she had better get in shape for the arduous mountain trails ahead. In the slippery bamboo forests she would have to be able to manage on her own. The plan from the start was to cover up to thirty miles a day. It took no time at all during this first clip for the caravan to break apart. The

failed, and that Mrs. Harkness has not yet succeeded.” As Smith saw it, he was trying to clear his own name, which Sowerby had “rather dragged in the mud.” He shouldn't have used the past tense, for Sowerby had just begun. In the July issue of The China Journal, he reported on Smith's pandas, burying the news low in a story that focused on Ruth Harkness's panda. Even though the writer-naturalist had already covered her victory extensively by that time, he again took another opportunity to call

Society, I have no jurisdiction whatsoever in the matter of her diet or her care,” Harkness wrote to Edward Bean. “Nevertheless, that does not prevent my feeling about her or my interest in her welfare. “I am strongly convinced that she should have something—some hard substance—on which she could help to cut her teeth. In spite of what some doctors say, I should think that a million years of rough—and exceedingly rough—diet warrants continuance of same. In spite of the fact that doctors say that

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