The Pandaren are one of the oldest races on Azeroth, originally hailing from the Western continent of Kalimdor. Leaving Kalimdor due to a disagreement with the Night Elves over their use of magic, the Pandaren Empire eventually resettled on an island continent named Pandaria. Emperor Shaohao, the last leader of the Pandaren Empire, made a pact with the Jade Serpent Yu'lon, one of the four August Celestials that guarded the region of Pandaria, to protect the island from the oncoming devastation of the Great Sundering. When the magical Well of Eternity at the centre of Azeroth exploded, splitting the landmass in two, Pandaria was enshrouded in a magical Mist, protecting it from the devastation as it was moved southwards across the sea - where the Pandaren would remain secluded from the denizens of Azeroth for over 10,000 years, fading into Azerothian myth. Although after the Sundering at the end of the War of the Ancients some Pandaren would venture out of Pandaria to explore Azeroth, they were incredibly rare sights. Even though some travelling Pandaren would offer their aid as mercenaries to parties they came across, they remained a predominantly isolated people.
Due to their abandonment of Kalimdor, the Pandaren people swear no fealty to either the Horde or the Alliance, so they remain to be one of the few independent races on Azeroth.
Since the time of the Pandaren Empire, Pandaren culture has moved from a more militaristic nature to one of peace and tranquility. Although the Pandaren are still considered to be a capable fighting force, with their Warrior-Monks and mighty spiritual swordsmen known as the Shodo-Pan, Pandaren culture reveres Creativity and the Arts above all. Poetry and Songwriting are national treasures in Pandaria, as are craftsmen.
Although outsiders know little of Pandaren Society, denizens of Azeroth are fully aware of the role that Alcohol plays in it. Like the Dwarves, Pandaren consider themselves to be experts with Ale and other drinks. The legendary Brewmasters of Pandaria are known for both their brutal fighting skills and their passion for drinking, with many Brewmasters travelling outside of Pandaria in search of new ingredients to add to their liquors as well as taste the drinks of other races. Chen Stormstout, one of the most famous Pandaren Brewmasters and owner of the Stormstout Brewery, is known amongst the Horde for coming to the aid of Rexxar after the fall of the Burning Legion.
Like many races across Azeroth, the Pandaren adopt a Shamanistic faith and believe in the Earth Mother. All Pandaren strongly believe in a connection between their own world and that of spirits and Elementals, practicing the ancient art of Geomancy. Geomancers, who believe that the nature of spirits and the land around them reflect each other, are some of the most potent Shamans in Azeroth, capable of drawing their holy powers directly from the Earth mother herself. In Pandaria, there are 4 key elemental spirits: Huo, the Spirit of Fire, Shu, the Spirit of Water, Dafeng, the Spirit of Wind, and Wugou, the Spirit of Earth. All Pandaren believe that the balance of each of these spirits is crucial to leading a balanced and calm life: Any hostile emotions feed the mysterious powers of the Sha, an elemental race of powerful beings that feed off negative energy on Pandaria. The Pandaren people have long since held off the Sha, however, as Alliance and Horde forces begin to encroach upon Pandaren lands once more, their hostility allows the Sha to grow in power and once again pose a threat to the Pandaren way of life.
In Pandaren Philosophy, there are two leading schools of thought: Tushui and Huojin. Practitioners of Tushui favour meditation, training and a strong moral conviction in their lives, adapting their actions to the elemental flow of water, moving with it and finding the most natural solution rather than making a hasty judgement. On the other hand, Huojin followers are the polar opposite, believing that the greatest offence a Pandaren can commit is one of inaction, choosing to go with gut decisions rather than waste time attempting to evaluate a choice. These two philosophies will form the foundation for the factions of Pandaren who eventually choose to side with either the Horde or the Alliance once the mists surrounding Pandaria are lifted.
Mists of Pandaria
After many years of playing a role as the joke race in the Warcraft franchise, The Pandaren play a key role in the World of Warcraft expansion pack, Mists of Pandaria, announced at BlizzCon 2011.
The playable Pandaren hail from the Wandering Isle, a landmass on top of a giant floating Turtle named Shen-zin Su that left Pandaria thousands of years ago to travel around the southern seas of Azeroth. Players starting as a Pandaren will begin on the Wandering Isle, before deciding to join either the Horde or Alliance at Level 10, making them the first cross-faction playable race in the game. Alliance Pandaren will be represented by Aysa Cloudsinger, a follower of the Tushui philosophy, whilst the Pandaren of the Horde will be lead by Ji Firepaw, a practitioner of Huojin.The Pandaren will also have access (along with every other race except for the Worgen and Goblins) to the new character class, The Monk. Pandaren characters can also be Warriors, Mages, Priests, Rogues, Hunters and Shaman.
The continent of Pandaria will become open to to players as a leveling area from Level 85 to the new cap of 90, however players will not be able to fly over it until they reach Level 90. Pandaria itself is divided into 7 regions: The Jade Forest, Valley of the Four Winds, the Kun-lai Summit, Townlong Steppes, Krasarang Wilds, the Dread Wastes and the Vale of Eternal Blossoms. The continent Pandaria will also be home to 7 new dungeons for Players to experience, as well as 3 new raids. Eventually the final Raid encounter of the Pandaria content will end with players from both the Horde and the Alliance laying siege to the city of Orgrimmar to put an end to the reign of the current Warchief, Garrosh Hellscream.
Behind the Scenes
The Pandaren race were created by the longtime Blizzard Artist Samwise Didier, originally as an in-joke amongst his friends and family where he had earned the 'Panda' nickname from his brother. Pandas would turn up in Didier's Warcraft drawings until eventually Chris Metzen decided to turn the joke into a fully fledged part of the Warcraft lore, creating the term 'Pandaren' out of 'Panda' and the Pinyin Chinese word for person, 'rén'. The Pandaren first appeared in game as part of the Horde campaign in the expansion for Warcraft III, the Frozen Throne, in 2003.
Since then the Pandaren have become a running joke at Blizzard and fan favourites, appearing as easter eggs across their games. Much of the original lore surrounding the Pandaren came from the April fools announcement that they would become the 5th playable faction in The Frozen Throne. As another April Fools joke in 2005, Blizzard announced a partnership with the fictional restaurant chain 'Pandaren Xpress' to allow World of Warcraft players to order Chinese food in-game with the command '/panda', parodying a real life deal between Pizza Hut and Everquest II.
Although long rumored to be a part of World of Warcraft since it's release (much speculation began around the announcement of The Burning Crusade, where many believed they would become the new Alliance race, before Blizzard announced the Draenei instead), however at Blizzcon 2009 the company confirmed the Pandaren did not have a big role in World of Warcraft due to legal issues with the Chinese government. Due to the status of Pandas in China, the original Japanese-inspired look of the Pandaren was changed to wear more Chinese-style clothing after outcry in China over the treatment of one of their national icons.
The Pandaren made their first big appearance in World of Warcraft as a Pandaren Monk Vanity Pet that could be purchased for $10 from the Blizzard online store in April of 2009. Up until the 31st of December 2009, 50% of the profits from the sale of the pet would go to the Make-a-Wish Foundation - eventually raising over $1.1 million for the charity.