By Zhou Han
After the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games opened, Bing Dwen Dwen, the official mascot, has soon become a smash hit. The 5,000 Bing Dwen Dwen plush dolls that went on sale online on February 4, the day of the opening ceremony, sold out in 15 minutes. On the Japanese second-hand trading platform Mercari, a Bing Dwen Dwen doll was fetching as much as 55,000 yen, equivalent to about US$478. In the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and other countries, Bing Dwen Dwen also became increasingly popular.
How did the panda mascot get so popular? What are the cultural elements and designs behind it?
September 17, 2019 was a very exciting day for Professor Cao Xue at Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. That day, the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Organizing Committee announced that Bing Dwen Dwen, a panda design submitted by his academy, had been chosen from nearly 6,000 entries from China and 35 countries around the world as the official mascot of the Games.
Bing Dwen Dwen wears a full-body “ice shell” which resembles a Chinese astronaut’s suit and contains profound Chinese cultural elements as well as hints of new technologies. According to Cao Xue, the original design of Bing Dwen Dwen was inspired by tanghulu, a traditional Chinese winter treat of a string of haws coated with crystal sugar on a stick. At the initial stage of design, although tanghulu was readily accepted as a creative idea, it was not popular enough to represent China. The design team tried to replace tanghulu with elks, tigers, rabbits, and many other things before arriving at the final decision of using the image of the giant panda, China’s national treasure which would surely be accepted and loved by people all over the world. To design an attractive mascot, the design team traveled to the Wolong Giant Panda Nature Reserve in Sichuan Province to conduct field studies. They determined that the head-body ratio of young pandas is different from that of adult pandas, which makes them look more cute and adorable. The design team honed their design based on this finding.
The popularity of Bing Dwen Dwen surpassed all the design team’s expectations. They hope the design will become a classic and leave a deep imprint in Olympic history.
As a new online celebrity representing the Winter Olympics, cute and adorable Bing Dwen Dwen was liked and followed by athletes and journalists from around the world who were incredibly enthusiastic about taking photos with the mascot.
Gido Tsujioka, a journalist from NTV, one of Japan’s six flagship TV stations, expressed his love for Bing Dwen Dwen and actively promoted Bing Dwen Dwen to his Japanese audience, earning himself the nickname “Gido Dwen Dwen.” Thanks to his influence, NTV gave the title of “Gido Dwen Dwen.WWW” to its Winter Olympics special programming, which drove ratings up. “Gido Dwen Dwen” also went viral on Chinese social media.
A journalist from Japan’s Sports Hochi news network working in Beijing on the Winter Olympics reported on foreign journalists’ passion for Bing Dwen Dwen after seeing long queues for a souvenir for friends and relatives. “Their passion did not diminish after hours in the queues,” said the report.
According to Japanese media THE ANSWER, the official Japanese version of IOC MEDIA on Twitter released a group of hand close-ups of South Korean female curler Kim Kyeong-ae on February 16, showing her thumbnail painted with a Bing Dwen Dwen. The photos were praised by netizens from all over the world: “Bing Dwen Dwen is popular everywhere.” “Super cool, amazing.” “The whole world loves Bing Dwen Dwen.”
On February 14, South Korean short-track speed skater Kim A-lang posted a photo of herself with a Golden Dwen Dwen (an award for Olympic champions) and a Bing Dwen Dwen snowman on Instagram, which received nearly 40,000 likes, with South Korean netizens leaving comments admiring the cuteness.
Mascots have been “an integral part” of Winter Olympic Games, representing the cultural tradition and specialties of host countries. Bing Dwen Dwen, designed in the adorable image of a young giant panda, is full of modern technological elements. It not only captures the profound heritage of traditional Chinese culture, but also highlights the amiable and admirable image of China.
Bing Dwen Dwen’s rise in popularity was not by chance. Sport knows no borders and brings humanity closer together. Bing Dwen Dwen represents warm, open, optimistic and confident cultural elements of the Chinese nation, builds a bridge of communication across national borders, deepens understanding, and enhances friendship for a shared future.
About the author: Zhou Han is a scholar of international studies.