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Although they did little more than chew on bamboo and draw frequent coos of delight from visitors, they were Beijing's most successful diplomats.
Yet they were just the latest in a long line of exotic animals who have come to British shores, either as a result of royal relationships or through the work of London Zoo.
It was there that star attractions including Guy the gorilla, Jumbo the elephant and Winnie the bear - who was the inspiration for AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh - drew thousands of visitors.
In the 13th century, King Henry III was given three lions, an elephant and a polar bear by European rulers, leading to the creation of the Tower of London's menagerie.
King George III was the lucky recipient of a cheetah, which was named Miss Jenny and famously depicted by artist George Stubbs.
His successor and son George IV was one of three European monarchs to receive a giraffe from the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt.
But both were eclipsed in sheer volume of gifted animals by the late Queen Elizabeth II, who was given dozens of creatures throughout her reign.
Many, including two pygmy hippopotami, were immediately put into the care of London Zoo.
Winnie the black bear was brought to Britain by Canadian soldier Harry Colebourn, who gave her to London Zoo when he went to fight in France in the First World War
In the 13th century, King Henry III was given three lions, an elephant and a polar bear by European rulers, leading to the creation of the Tower of London's menagerie. Above: An 1830 depiction of lions and tigers fighting in the Tower of London
Pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian were just the latest examples of so-called panda diplomacy, which has been a tool of the Chinese regime for decades.
Other pandas who were sent to the UK included Chia Chia and Ching Ching in 1974, in a deal secured by Tory PM Edward Heath.
Between 1958 and 1982, China gave 23 pandas to nine different countries.
Also among them were Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling, who were given by Chairman Mao to US President Richard Nixon in 1972.
Yang Guang and Tian Tian came to Edinburgh Zoo in 2011 as part of a 10-year agreement. This was then extended by two years.
It was long hoped that the pair would produce a cub, but despite repeated attempts, they remained without offspring.
Henry III was given his lions by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, in 1235. His elephant was a gift from the King of France.
Yang Guang and Tian Tian are heading back to China after spending 12 years at Edinburgh Zoo. Above: Yang Guang during one of his final appearances in Edinburgh
In 1849, the world's first Reptile House was opened at London Zoo, with the hippopotamus Obaysch - the first living hippo to be seen in Europe since Roman times - arriving a year later
This famous giraffe calf was sent by Mehemet Ali, Pasha of Egypt, to George IV; it arrived in England in August 1827. It was kept at George's menagerie in Windsor but died in 1829
An 18th century depiction of the Lion Tower at the Tower of London. The lions entertained visitors
As for the polar bear, it was a present from the King of Norway in 1252. Although muzzled and chained, it was allowed to swim in the Thames.
All the creatures were kept at the Tower of London's menagerie, which continued to evolve over the decades.
It finally closed in the 1830s, after London Zoo opened.
George III's cheetah was the result of a scheme concocted by Sir George Pigot - a senior colonial administrator in India - in 1764.
He sent the creature to Britain in the hope of winning favour with the monarch.
When he was presented with Miss Jenny, George was left unimpressed and so she was given to his cousin, the Duke of Cumberland.
He kept her in a menagerie in Windsor Great Park, before she was moved to the Tower of London and lived for around seven years.
The Duke of Cumberland had initially tried to get Miss Jenny to chase a stag, but she was too frightened and instead ran off.
But Pigot got celebrated painter George Stubbs to commemorate the event in his famous painting, Cheetah and Stag, which is displayed at the Manchester Art Gallery.
In 1827, when George IV had finally succeeded his father in 1820 after ruling as Prince Regent for nine years, the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt sent giraffes as gifts to him, King Charles X of France and Franz II of Austria.
The animals are believed to have been half-siblings, having been captured as calves in the Nubian Desert in around 1826.
King George's giraffe was allegedly taken to Britain a ship that