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A must-have chubby panda in a space suit has a ‘scarcity problem’ at the Winter Olympics

Bing Dwen Dwen, the Olympics mascot, poses at the curling venue on Feb. 2. (Brynn Anderson/AP)
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A Bing Dwen Dwen is hard to find. Plush versions of the rotund, space suit-wearing panda mascot of the Beijing Winter Olympics are in short supply with fans waiting for hours, often lining up at stores before opening time, to buy the souvenir.

Stores limit customers to one per person. Enterprising scalpers are selling them for up to 10 times the asking price of about $30. The “Bing Dwen Dwen scarcity problem” will be addressed with boosted production, officials promised, and nearly a million people watched a state-media live stream of workers at a factory in Fujian province on Wednesday.

When a middle-aged man dressed in a Bing Dwen Dwen suit gave an interview online this week, it caused such an uproar that clips of the video were taken down. (The personification of the mascot, meant to be gender neutral, ruined its cute image, fans said.) The Beijing Olympic Committee reassured fans online that the man had been “a fake” Bing Dwen Dwen.

Such is the enthusiasm for Bing Dwen Dwen, a chubby panda inexplicably wearing a space suit meant to symbolize the “strength and willpower” of Olympians. According to the mascot’s designer, Bing Dwen Dwen is meant to be a winter sports expert from the future.

Bing Dwen Dwen, whose name in Chinese is meant to connote vitality and purity, as well as a kind of healthy stockiness, is an embodiment of the “positive energy” officials hope will permeate the Winter Games that are taking place against the backdrop of escalating tensions between China and Western countries like the United States over human rights, trade and other issues.

Love for Bing Dwen Dwen in all its incarnations, including mascots getting stuck in doorways or dancing energetically on the sidelines of competitions, is one of the main stories Chinese state media and Olympic officials have amplified over the last week.

A video segment of a Japanese announcer showing off his collection of Bing Dwen Dwen paraphernalia was promoted by state broadcaster CCTV. During the Opening Ceremonies, 8-foot tall Bing Dwen Dwens resplendent in neon suits leaped and waddled as the Olympic rings were lifted into the air. Soon the hashtag, “No one can reject Bing Dwen Dwen” appeared on the microblogging site Weibo.

Bing Dwen Dwen is “lively, funny, witty, and of course full of positive energy,” Christophe Dubi, Olympic Games executive director of the International Olympic Committee said at a press briefing on Sunday, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

The sudden demand for a toy which at its debut in 2019 was described by Internet users on Chinese social media as “out of this world ugly” and likened to “a flash frozen panda” or a “sesame ball with its filling leaking out” has come as a surprise to many. Its popularity has in part been helped by targeted promotion. According to an analysis by the Sydney Morning Herald, almost 20 percent of accounts posting on Twitter about Bing Dwen Dwen were created in the last month.

At the Main Media Center in the closed-loop Olympic bubble, a long line forms outside the official store every morning. By midday, the shelves are almost empty. A sign on the window reads, “Thanks for your understanding and your adulation of the Licensed Products.”

Local staff at the media center are not allowed in the store, to save supplies of the toys and souvenirs for the visiting journalists, but some still try to sneak in by hiding their passes. Leo Liu, a student working as a volunteer translator for Japanese, has managed to secure a Bing Dwen Dwen pillow as well as three pins.

He has received multiple requests from classmates and family outside the Olympic bubble for help securing collectibles. “I always tell them I will try but no promises,” he said.

When The Post visited the store on Wednesday afternoon, two state media journalists were filming a segment about the mascot. Acting for the camera, one ran up to empty shelves, threw his arms out and exclaimed, “Wah, it’s already sold out!” His colleague then critiqued his performance as “looking a bit fake.”

Christian Shepherd in Beijing, Lyric Li in Seoul and Pei-Lin Wu in Taipei contributed to this report.

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