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How Olympic mascot Bing Dwen Dwen came into being—and went viral
How one roly-poly panda became China's hottest commodity
By Ji Jing  ·  2022-02-21  ·   Source: NO.8 FEBRUARY 24, 2022
A child showcases her Bing Dwen Dwen made with dough in Shanghai on February 13 (XINHUA)

Before the Spring Festival, on February 1 this year, nobody could have imagined Bing Dwen Dwen, the roly-poly panda mascot of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, would become a breakout star.

The chubby lucky charm wearing a transparent shell made its public debut in September 2019. The Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (BOCOG) had developed a series of licensed merchandise featuring the mascot, including stuffed animals, ceramics and throw pillows. However, it wasn't until February 4, when the Beijing 2022 Games opened, that the mascot and its related products became a sensation.

Bing Dwen Dwen-related merchandise sold out at the official Olympic flagship store on e-commerce platform Tmall. On the offline front, in cities like Beijing, consumers battled the freezing cold to line up outside Beijing 2022 licensed product flagship stores and get their hands on the hottest commodity in town.

At a flagship store in Yuexiu District in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, all related products have run out of supply; consumers can place an order for their plush Bing Dwen Dwens—and receive them in March.

Disappointed netizens took to crafting their own versions of the mascot, using materials like dough, orange peels and snow, and posted photos of their finished products, with pride and joy, on social media.

BOCOG spokesperson Zhao Weidong said on February 6 that the organizing committee pays close attention to the supply of Bing Dwen Dwen merchandise and is actively coordinating with the relevant parties to fuel market supply.

Not only the Chinese but foreigners, too, fell hard for the mascot. Gido Tsujioka, a 35-year-old Japanese journalist from Nippon Television Network Corp., is widely known for his love of the panda mascot, gaining him the online nickname of Gido Dwen Dwen.

This is Tsujioka's first visit to China. He said the lucky panda charm has become a cultural icon representing the Beijing Winter Olympics as well as the optimistic, open-minded and hospitable Chinese attitude.

Futuristic vibes

Even Cao Xue, chief designer of the mascot, couldn't find a stuffed one for his son in Guangzhou's flagship stores.

Back in 2018, after learning that the BOCOG was soliciting mascot designs from all over the world, Cao, Dean of the School of Visual Art Design at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, established a team of 14 designers. The team came up with 15 designs which were then submitted to the committee. By that August, the BOCOG had collected over 5,000 designs from 35 countries. In January 2019, 10 designs were shortlisted, three of which hailed from Cao's team.

Half of the design team were postgraduate students, the other half were teachers from the school.

As most of the designers on the team come from warm Guangdong and have seldom seen snow, the BOCOG had its doubts as to whether they could come up with a Winter Olympics design. Yet it turned out they possessed amazingly imaginative and creative power when it came to ice and snow sports.

Cao chose the panda image not only because the animal features strong Chinese characteristics—it is, after all, the country's national treasure—but also because the animal is ubiquitously adored.

Yet creating a panda that stands out from the crowd is not as easy as it sounds. Both Panpan, the mascot for the Asian Games held in Beijing in 1990 and Jingjing, one of the five official mascots of the Olympic Summer Games Beijing 2008, were modeled after the cute animal.

Cao's team scoured the market, collecting thousands of panda images and pasting these across the wall. The team ended up sketching the image of a cub, with big dark circles and a red heart in its palm.

The mascot's ice shell was inspired by the appearance of a traditional sugar-coated candy fruit treat called bingtang hulu, or literally "ice sugar gourd."

The face of the panda is lined with a colorful halo, denoting the five colors of the Olympic rings. It was inspired by the National Speed Skating Oval, a venue of the Beijing Winter Olympics also known as the "ice ribbon."

Dressed like an astronaut, the animal presents a rather futuristic image. "The mascot is a combination of Chinese culture and modern technologies, signifying the wishes of people worldwide to join hands during these pandemic times," Zou Xinxian, Director of the Olympic Culture Research Center at Beijing Sports University, said.

To make sure it had a lovable edge, the team spent seven months revising the design after it was first shortlisted. They zoomed in on details such as shell size and the proportions of the dark circles on its face.

Over the course of 10 months, the team traveled to Beijing more than 20 times to discuss the design-in-progress with the BOCOG; it received over 1,000 revisions before the end result was eventually unveiled.

Cao remembers that when Bing Dwen Dwen was officially announced as mascot of the Beijing Winter Olympics on September 17, 2019, the team was so excited they simply burst into tears.

Childhood inspiration

Cao was born in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province, and when he was a kid, in winter he, together with other neighborhood kids, would craft small snow carts using bamboo. These memories served as inspiration for the promotional video of Bing Dwen Dwen and Shuey Rhon Rhon—the baby red lantern mascot for the Winter Paralympics. Released by China Central Television, the promo sees Bing Dwen Dwen zooming down the slopes and the two mascots sleighing on ice, all based on Cao's childhood memories.

Cao has his own understanding of design. He thinks a true reflection of the Chinese style is not to simply put together traditional cultural elements such as papercutting or ceramics. In fact, Bing Dwen Dwen bears no traditional Chinese culture elements—aside from the panda.

Rather, he believes a design should showcase the Chinese outlook on the world.

Cao also pointed out that creators should always keep in mind the audience when executing a project. Olympic mascots are designed for children around the age of 9, who were also the target of his team.

Nonetheless, the popularity of the adorable mascot later stretched far beyond this age group.

"Not everyone can have the opportunity to design something for such a grand event," Cao said. He hopes to insert this experience into his future teaching and inspire others.

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

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