He’s an ice-encrusted astronaut panda, and his sidekick is a small child, made of traditional Chinese lanterns. Together they are Bing DwenDwen and Shuey RhonRhon – the mascots for the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing.
Olympic host cities have been creating mascots since the Grenoble winter games in 1968. The first was a parallel skier called Schuss and there has been an assortment of characters since then, both animal and human.
But Beijing takes the prize for the largest number of mascots at a single event. For its Summer Olympics in 2008 it released five doll-like characters called the “Fuwa”. Said together, their names sounded like “Beijing welcomes you” although the group was widely panned as unoriginal in design.
The city is hoping its mascots for the winter games will be better received. They were unveiled on September 17 and the initial reaction seemed generally positive – helped by the censoring of nastier responses on social media. “So cute,” was a common refrain on weibo. “Full of national spirit,” was another.
Yet plenty of people were still disappointed that the Olympic organising committee had, once again, chosen a design inspired by a Giant Panda.
“Where is the creativity?” was one dismissive remark. “I have Panda fatigue,” complained another.
There was also dismay from some winter sports enthusiasts that an introductory animation showing the two characters skiing was inaccurate in its portrayal of the ski equipment and the downhill courses that it featured.
“As a country hosting the winter games, such errors are fatal,” said one keen-eyed viewer.
Others remarked that the mascots’ names hadn’t been translated accurately into Pinyin – the standard system for transcribing Chinese characters – although games organisers soon responded that the altered spellings were designed to help foreigners pronounce the names more easily – a rare admission that the Pinyin system can sometimes be confusing.
As for the meaning of the two names: Bing means ‘ice’, while Dundun means ‘sincerity and health’. The lantern-child’s name combines snow (xue) and inclusivity (rongrong).
The designs were selected by open competition and Xinhua said the Beijing organising committee had received almost 6,000 submissions from 35 countries. Unsurprisingly, the two winners were from China – the space panda was created by the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and the lantern child was the idea of a student at the Jilin College of the Arts.
Even as people bemoaned the repeated use of a Panda as the Olympiad’s mascot, there was outrage online over the death of a real animal that had been loaned out to a Thai zoo. The bear, called Chuang Chuang, arrived in Chiang Mai in 2003 with Lin Hui, a female, on a 10-year loan that was extended for another decade. But many feel the animal, who was 19, had been badly treated and may even have died after being fed the type of bamboo stalk typically used to make scaffolding or furniture.
“These animals are our national treasure. We should not loan them to abusers,” thundered one angry weibo user.
The Chinese have sent a team to carry out a post-mortem, although the results are yet to be made publicly available. And in the meantime, there are growing calls for the immediate return of Lin Hui.
“I understand that there are some concerns about her being alone and her loneliness. We have to talk about this later,” promised Ren Yisheng, the Chinese Consul General in Chiang Mai.
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