August 5, 2008 / 6:08 PM / 11 years ago

Do Games fans give a fuwa for Beijing mascots?

BEIJING (Reuters) - Cute, smiling and friendly, the five Olympics mascots have won the hearts of children globally with a red, flame figure proving most popular — but others are not enamored and blame them for bringing bad luck to China.

Fuwa-shaped balloons are flied during a tourism festival in Beijing May 23, 2008. "Fuwa" is the mascot of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Picture taken May 23, 2008. REUTERS/China Daily

The five stylized dolls, known collectively as Fuwa or good-luck dolls, represent the colors of the Olympic rings and the traditional five elements. They all have rhyming two-syllable names — an affectionate way to address children in China.

The most popular, Huanhuan, is red symbolizing the Olympic Flame and the passion of sport while the second favorite is Jingjing who is black and represents wood as a giant panda.

Beibei, blue, represents water as a Chinese sturgeon fish while Yingying, yellow, symbolizes earth as a Tibetan antelope and Nini, green, is for the sky as a swallow.

But like most Olympic mascots that began at the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France, Fuwa have got a lukewarm reception overall — as well as being used by groups to highlight political issues in China and blamed by some Chinese for bad events.

“They are not my taste, too childish” said tourist Michelle Lam, from Eastbourne, England, while shopping in one of the official souvenir stores in Beijing for the August 8-24 Games.

Amnesty International, which has slammed China for failing to honor its human rights pledges, created a monkey figure called Nu Wa, meaning angry, young man, to protest Internet censorship.

Another group came up with a YouTube video of GenGen Genocide, a red and yellow character with a skull and crossbones gun and a fuel bowser nozzle on a head-dress, to raise China's role in Darfur (here).

SELLING FAST

The official mascots have become omnipresent in Beijing, greeting visitors at the airport, plastered over billboards, and featured in a wide range of Olympic merchandise from pins to T-shirts to 4 ft cuddly toys costing 2,500 yuan

($364.9).

But even the Chinese people who strongly support the Games are not all in favor of the mascots that were created by Chinese artist Han Meilin and have featured in a TV cartoon series.

Internet users tied the five mascots to calamities that have struck China in the run-up to the Games calling it the “Curse of the Fuwa” — although censors were quick to remove any postings that might fuel the superstition.

The panda Jingjing was linked to the earthquake in Sichuan, an area well known for its pandas, and Beibei, a Chinese sturgeon, for the floods in south China this year.

Nini, whose identity has been confused with a kite, was linked to a train accident in the “kite city” of Weifang, while

Yingying was associated with unrest in Tibet and flame-headed Huanhuan with the protests along the Olympic torch route.

A survey of 3,087 Chinese people by market researcher Nielsen found awareness of Fuwa as the official mascot of the Beijing Olympics was exceedingly high, with 98 percent of people able to name them. Huanhuan was the most well-known followed by Beibei.

The online poll found six out of 10 people liked or really liked them, two in 10 were neutral, but 15 percent disliked them.

Still trade seemed brisk in an official souvenir store in the Dongan Department Store in Wangfujing mall where shop assistant Pang Jie said Huanhuan and Beibei were selling fastest.

Tourist Cindy Sui, from Hong Kong, bought a Huanhuan toy.

“I like them all but this is my favorite as it is so cute,” she told Reuters. “I think they’re really cool.”

(Additional reporting by Lucy Hornsby and Alfred Cang; editing by Miles Evans)

For more stories visit our multimedia website "Road to Beijing" here

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