In 2008, the Beijing Olympics had not one but five mascots (one of which was a Tibetan antelope). More recently, the mascot of the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo was a cat-like robot called Miraitowa (the Japanese words “mirai” means future and “towa” stands for eternity). An American bald eagle dressed as Uncle Sam – Sam the Olympic Eagle – was the mascot for the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
If none of the above rings a bell, that’s likely because you do not work for an Olympics body – and the expensively devised mascots have passed you by as an ephemeral irrelevance. But with the Beijing Winter Olympics now in full swing, the mascot selected, a panda called Bing Dwen Dwen, has genuinely become a household name in China.
According to an introductory video that came out in 2019, Bing Dwen Dwen – which dons a transparent spacesuit (an “icy shell that is stylised as a sports helmet”) – hails from the future. The mascot was apparently chosen from 5,800 global submissions as the Winter Olympic mascot three years ago. It garnered little attention at the time.
But in the run-up to the opening of the Winter Games in Beijing, Bing Dwen Dwen soon went viral. On Sina Weibo, discussion about the panda mascot has surpassed that of even the most popular athletes (such as Japanese figure skater Hanyu Yuzuru, see here) in terms of buzz. Most of the comments surrounding the mascot, predictably, centre on its appearance with netizens calling the panda “cute” and “adorable”.
Bing Dwen Dwen merchandise has been selling out instantly. At the Zhangjiakou Media Centre, for instance, new items arrive every morning and there’s always a line of a people waiting anxiously to go in. Despite a restriction on the sale of two items per person, by the time the crowd clears, all Bing Dwen Dwen merchandise, even key chains and fridge magnets, are gone.
“Who would have thought that this year’s biggest mascot wasn’t tiger cubs [since this is the Year of the Tiger] but a panda in a spacesuit?” a netizen joked.
To be fair, the mascot’s surge in popularity has much to do with the enthusiasm displayed by China for the Winter Games. “Bing Dwen Dwen’s ability to go viral has to do with the buzz the Winter Games has been getting. The Games has given an outlet for people’s emotions and now everyone wants to be involved one way or another. So they come up with topics, create memes and post emoticons. Showing off Bing Dwen Dwen is also another way to express their excitement for the Games,” DT Finance explained.
The difficulty in securing panda dolls and other coveted merchandise has led some to joke that the most straightforward way to get hold of Bing Dwen Dwen toys is to win a medal at the Games (because all the winners are given one when take to the podium).
Those who do not have that athletic prowess will have to resort to second-hand platforms, where prices have continued to surge. Take the larger 20cm plush toy, for instance: the price has surged to Rmb1,500, nearly eight times the original retail price. Those who are willing to wait can pay less, just Rmb800, but will not get the item delivered for three weeks.
That said, the sky currently appears to be the limit when it comes to Bing Dwen Dwen fever. A Bing Dwen Dwen-embossed gold coin went for Rmb120,000 and instantly sold out.
“Judging from the purchasing power, the popularity of BDD has already surpassed that of Disney’s pink fox LinaBell (see WiC562),” says E-Commerce Toutiao.
Needless to say, disreputable scalpers quickly sensed a lucrative opportunity. There were many consumers filing police reports claiming that they had transferred money to the accounts of a seller who promised to have stocks of Bing Dwen Dwen plush toy on second-hand resale platforms only to never hear from the seller again.
Many counterfeiters were also eager to fill the gap. Last week, authorities prosecuted a person who produced and sold counterfeit Bing Dwen Dwen stuffed toys, and sentenced the suspect to one year in prison with a Rmb40,000 fine. The Global Times also reported Sunday that bakeries in cities including Chongqing are under investigation for making Bing Dwen Dwen-shaped cakes in violation of Olympic licencing rights.
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