The man behind the Beijing Winter Olympics mascot jokes that he wished he had kept a few more of his cuddly panda creations after they became highly sought after collectables in China.
Bing Dwen Dwen, the official mascot of the Games, has become the latest must-have item for keen fans with long queues at Olympic souvenir shops, and many willing to pay well over the official price to get their hands on one.
Cao Xue, who led the design team, said he was surprised by the craze.
“I thought… that some people might begin to purchase some after the opening of Olympics, but I didn’t expect it to be so hot overnight,” he told AFP. “Bing Dwen Dwen has become a phenomenon.”
“Each of us kept only one Bing Dwen Dwen as a souvenir, which we deeply regret now,” he added.
While the name officially means “ice child” in Mandarin, the popular rotund mascot is more colloquially translated as “ice chubster”.
However a supply shortage — attributed to production issues around Chinese Lunar New Year, which coincided with the start of the Olympics — has seen scalpers selling the toy for ten times its original price of 200 yuan (US$30), according to reports.
Police have also warned of scams surrounding Bing Dwen Dwen with online fraudsters pocketing the money and disappearing.
But with spectators largely banned due to Covid-19 restrictions, owning an “ice chubster” may be the closest most people get to the Beijing Games.
‘The best and only choice’
In the months designing the Games mascot, there were at least 16 versions and floor-to-ceiling drawings pasted around his office, said Cao, a professor at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts.
“We drew tens of thousands of sketches, spent seven months in the process of designing and modification, and once gave up the idea of panda as there had been so many panda images designed before.
“But in the end for both our design team and the Beijing Olympic Organising Committee — a panda is our best and only choice.”
The final blueprint placed the animal inside a transparent ice-like bubble, inspired by the outer shell of a “tanghulu”, a hawthorn snack glazed with syrup popular in Beijing.
It has also spurred creative interpretations including Bing Dwen Dwen themed dumplings, rice cakes and homemade versions, according to videos by enthusiastic users online.
One fan outside the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium even claimed to have recreated the mascot using human hair.
Organisers have insisted they are now ramping up supply, and state media has published videos showing workers putting in overtime at factories.
“When I saw Beijing citizens queuing in [shopping district] Wangfujing for hours in the severe cold, I was thinking: they don’t want to buy a lifeless toy,” said Cao.
“They waited for hours in the cold in the hope that they could hold something which give them a sense of warmth.
“Through Bing Dwen Dwen, I want to express warmth and love.”
Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.