The pandaren are a nation unto themselves. Their history has played out for 10,000 years behind a shroud of impenetrable mist, one that has allowed them to develop their own culture free from interference from outsiders. Now, after 100 centuries, the mists have receded and Pandaria stands revealed.
At present, the peoples of Pandaria, from the mogu to the mantid, the virmen and the hozen, are mostly unknown to us. Of these races, the pandaren are most familiar, and even then this is purely due to the actions of one pandaren who came to Kalimdor and walked alongside Rexxar and his allies, Chen Stormstout. But what do we know about the pandaren and their ancient homeland of Pandaria?
Rise of the pandaren
More than 12,000 years ago, when the kaldorei were still stumbling upon the Well of Eternity, the mogu had already conquered a swath of territory and enslaved everything in it. Little is as yet known of the mogu, aside from their love of brutality and their belief that the strongest (themselves) should dominate the weak (everyone else).
One of the peoples enslaved in mogu territory were the ancient pandaren. Despite the mogu's having forbidden their slaves from bearing arms of any kind, the pandaren played to their strengths and organized a rebellion, learning to suborn their masters' control by developing the ability to fight without weapons, to harness the mysteries of chi, and to exploit the mogu's arrogance and brutality. In time, the pandaren rose up, and after a vicious struggle, cast the mogu down. The imperial structure that the mogu had established, the pandaren eventually seized and remade in their own image.
When the War of the Ancients saw the demons of the Burning Legion swarm across the ancient continent of Kalimdor, the last pandaren emperor found a way to protect his lands and his people from the looming disaster. This deal with fate, as it has been described, is as mysterious to us as the land it saved, but we know that it created the mists that separated Pandaria from the rest of Azeroth and somehow insulated the land from the devastation of the Sundering. The Mist lasted for 10,000 years, and however it was created and maintained, its presence prevented anyone from finding Pandaria during that time. It's not clear exactly how, but the mists are said to have left Pandaria somehow haunted from the time of their creation.
Now that they are gone, the pandaren must for the first time in thousands of years deal with outsiders. Before this, only the wandering pandaren who settled on the great turtle Shen-zin Su and rode on the creature's titanic shell interacted with the outside world. Called the Wandering Isle, the mammoth terrapin is the home of Chen Stormstout and other pandaren who felt the need to leave Pandaria itself behind and experience the world beyond the mists. If you play a pandaren in Mists, you'll be playing a native of this mobile zone.
Contemplative and epicurean
Pandaren culture is both contemplative and epicurean. They seek to master the flow of chi and the self via their martial arts yet eagerly live in the moment and enjoy the pleasures life has to offer. Balance is important to them, but so is action and the direction of the personal will to achieve one's goals. They enjoy combat and the art of the gourmand equally. Imagine if Brian Blessed were a panda.
Due to the existence of the sha, dread entities of manifested negative emotion, the pandaren tend toward a more controlled, less explosive temperament. Pandaren are not easily moved to lose their self-control or discipline. They love life and love to explore the pleasures it brings but keep the ideals of self control and balance close to heart as they do so.
Because every pandaren is at heart a bear with a deep capacity for anger, their culture emphasizes working to find compromises and forget grudges. In essence, they're deeply civilized and diplomatic because they know the consequences for losing that civility can be severe.
Honor and respect
Pandaria itself is a vast land, and the Pandaren Empire seems to have endured for 10,000 years despite the lack of an emperor (the last one having made the deal with fate just before the Sundering). The pandaren honor and respect the august celestials, great spirits similar in some ways to the Ancients and Loa of the night elves and trolls respectively. These celestials are so ingrained into pandaren culture that they define themselves by which celestial they honor; for example, the Jade Serpent clan honors the Jade Serpent and lives in the Jade Forest.
The wandering pandaren who settled the Wandering Isle under Liu Lang generations ago do not honor a specific celestial in this way, but most of the pandaren of the mainland do. The ancient celestials are the Jade Serpent, the Black Ox, the Red Crane, the White Tiger and the Black Ox, although these may not be the only ones. The ancient empire has endured for 10,000 years, and even now, in the face of many threats both from Pandaria and abroad, the pandaren endure with good humor and zeal. There are also groups like the Shado-Pan and the Order of the Golden Lotus.
The faces of their people
It should be mentioned that two pandaren will be the faces and voices for their people to the outside world. Ji Firepaw, a member of the Houjin philosophy, will be the Horde representative of the pandaren from the Wandering Isle, while Aysa Cloudsinger of the Tushui will be the Alliance's introduction to her people. Both join a faction outside of their culture in order to not only introduce their own culture to the greater world but to learn and grow as well.
After 10,000 years, the pandaren must deal with that larger world ... and it must learn to deal with them as well.
by Matthew Rossi