Photo: Ray Ally
Does anyone remember the Olympic mascots from Sydney or Athens or Atlanta? Well I doubt it, but I think the Beijing Fuwa will be remembered for a long after the games.
There has been a lot of criticism and bad press about the Fuwa Olympic mascots since they were launched several years ago. Most recent news links them to the disaster in China and saying they are cursed.
Superstitiously each character linked specifically to a disaster; the panda to the earthquake, the flame to the torch rally, the Tibetan antelope to Tibet; the swallow to a train crash and the fish to the imminent flood about to happen on the Yangtze river.
So I feel compelled to stand up and defend these friendly cute characters in the face of overwhelming misplaced criticism. As I think these creatures are one of the best examples of mascot designs and a brilliant piece of Olympic marketing to communicate the games to a younger audience.
This is not something that can be said of most Olympics mascots, which are unmemorable and long forgotten. My previous favourite mascot was Cobi, the Catalonian sheepdog, from Barcelona designed by Javier Mariscal. It was another mascot that faced harsh criticism at launch, far outweighing rational or reasonable argument. In fact you would not be surprised to think that criticising mascots was an Olympic sport in itself.
What makes these mascots so appealing is that they not only capture the spirit of the Olympics but also the spirit of Beijing and China. The five Fuwa reflect the five Chinese elements of metal, wood, water, fire and earth and are in the five colours of the Olympic rings.
They were designed by Han Meilin, sometimes referred to as called ‘China’s Picasso’ who was paid one Yuan, but kept the copyright of the designs. After hundreds of revisions he was reportedly not happy with the final designs, as they had failed to embody the greatness of Chinese calligraphy.
The characters are called Beibei (贝贝), Jingjing (晶晶), Huanhuan (欢欢), Yingying (迎迎), and Nini (妮妮), which are very cute memorable Chinese children’s names. But what makes it really clever is when you put the names together they sound like 北京欢迎你, ‘Běijīng huānyíng nǐ’, which means Beijing welcomes you in Chinese.
Lastly and most importantly we should remember that Olympic mascots are aimed at children as a way to personalise the games and make it relevant to a younger audience. So the ultimate judge of whether they are good or not should rest with them.
Well from what I have experienced and seen in China, the kids here love them and always have a favourite one they can tell you. So let’s hope the Fuwa or ‘good luck dolls’ bring good fortune to the games – as this big kid loves them too.