Beijing 2008 Olympics: What are the meanings of the five mascots?

Is it any wonder that the Beijing 2008 Olympics mascots are so rich in symbolic meaning? After all China is a nation of living symbols.

The five Beijing 2008 Olympics mascots were announced on Nov 11 2005 -- the 1000th count-down day to the Olympics in China.

These five mascots are: a fish, panda, Olympic flame, antelope and swallow.

In Chinese, they are known as “Fu2 Wa1” literally “Fortune Dolls”. There are five of them which resonates with the traditional idea of

Five Fortunes (good luck, prosperity, longevity, happiness, wealth).

In English, they are known by the limp-sounding “Friendlies” which convey none of the symbolic meanings in Chinese. In fact the name "Friendlies" is very neutral and well..friendly. Note that none of the traditional Chinese symbols such as the dragon or mythical Monkey King were chosen.

The other major point to be made about these five mascots is that two of them are endangered species -- the giant panda and the Tibetan antelope. I guess China wants to focus both domestic and international attention on this environmental concern.

Whether you like the character designs or not – and there have been a lot of diverging opinions from experts -- some anonymous -- and ordinary individuals alike – they are meant to convey a range of positive and auspicious meanings. Here they are:

  1. Fish – Bei Bei
  2. Fish in Chinese is pronounced “yu2” which has the same sound as “yu2” meaning surplus or abundance. The headdress of this doll is a “fish in water” which represents a bountiful harvest of medals and money for everyone. The fish is blue to correspond to the blue Olympic ring.

  3. Panda – Jing Jing
  4. ing Jing is a giant panda from the forests of Sichuan in Western China. There are only about 1,000 wild pandas left in the Wolong Nature Reserve in Sichuan. The giant panda symbolizes the harmony of man and nature. The head dress of Jing Jing is a

    lotus flower pronounced “he2” which is the same sound as “he2” meaning harmony. The lotus flower has a lot of other meanings as well. Jing Jing the panda is a friendly, optimistic and energetic fellow. Jing Jing stands for the black Olympic ring.

  5. Fire - Huan Huan
  6. This is the only mascot that’s not an animal. It’s a “Fire Doll” representing the Olympic flame. The flame on Huan Huan’s head is reproduced from the picture of a flame on a Dun Huang Cave painting. (Dun Huang is a city on the famed

    in Western China where there are many caves with Buddhist paintings and scriptures.) Huan Huan is an outgoing character adept at many ball games.

  7. Tibetan antelope – Ying Ying
  8. The symbol of a “green” Beijing 2008 Olympics. This antelope that roams the Tibetan highlands is being hunted for its wool which is finer, softer and warmer than lamb's wool and cashmere. It's been estimated that only 75,000 to 100,000 Tibetan antelopes are left in existence. The headdress is a motif from the Tibetan and Xinjiang cultures in North Western China.

    The Tibetan antelope is a an alert and fast creature, and represents the track and field events of the Beijing 2008 Olympics. It also corresponds to the yellow ring.

  9. Swallow – Ni Ni
  10. The idea for Ni Ni comes from the traditional Beijing Swallow kites which are frequently flown over Tiananmen square. Swallow, pronounced “yen4” in Chinese also refers to “yen jing” the ancient name for Beijing. Ni Ni will be featured in gymnastics events and represents the Olympic green ring.

Now you know the symbolic meanings behind each of these Beijing 2008 Olympics mascots. Of course, you probably know by now that lining up the first words of each name gives "Beijing huan ying ni" or "Beijing Welcomes You"

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