ZHANGJIAKOU, China — Getting your hands on a stuffed version of Bing Dwen Dwen, the chubby astronaut panda mascot of the 2022 Olympics, is simple. All you have to do is win an Olympic medal, and they give you one for free.
Other than that? Good luck. You’d have a better chance sneaking into — or out of — the Olympics’ closed loop than laying your hands on ol’ BDD. Its cheery blank visage is everywhere — signs, stickers, paintings, statues, pins, videos, even dancing in the stands during events — but trying to claim Bing Dwen Dwen for your own is an impossible task.
Olympic mascots all generally fall into the same family of friendly, unthreatening animal. You’ll see them nonstop for the entirety of the Games, and then you’ll forget about them forever. If you can name one prior Olympic mascot, you have an impressive memory; if you can name more than one, seek professional help.
Though an exact translation is a bit slippery, “Bing” is most commonly a reference to ice, and “Dwen Dwen” often refers to lively and/or chubby children. Bing Dwen Dwen was judged the best of 5,800 global submissions. (It’s truly a shame we never get to see the mascot ranked dead last.) The giant panda is China’s official animal, so the selection of Bing Dwen Dwen isn’t exactly a stretch.
Even so, Bing Dwen Dwen is immensely popular in China, despite — or perhaps because of — the fact that no Chinese citizens can attend Games events in person. Lining up like college students camping out for college basketball games, they flock to official Olympic stores all over China, in search of the elusive chubby panda. USA Today, for instance, reported that some anxious Chinese shoppers stood in line for more than 11 hours in subfreezing temperatures, while Reuters reported that some lines stretched more than 1,200 shoppers long. That's dedication.
Naturally, there’s scalping going on. The most popular Bing Dwen Dwen stuffed animals retail for about $30, and enterprising resellers have priced them at up to $160.
For those volunteers inside the closed loop, there are options to purchase Olympic swag, but you have to act fast. At the Zhangjiakou Media Center, for instance, new merch drops every morning at 9 a.m., and every morning at 9 a.m., there’s a line of about 75 people waiting to dig in. By the time the initial wave has passed through — despite a restriction on two items per person — the store is down to scraps like Beijing 2022-branded gloves, rubber wristbands and Beijing 2022 pins inexplicably decorated with summer sports like volleyball and soccer.
China has promised to have more Bing Dwen Dwen goods ready for market soon; demand was far beyond even what Olympic organizers expected, and the Chinese New Year apparently didn’t help production schedules. But Olympic officials have said Bing Dwen Dwen merch will remain on sale at least through the end of June. That’s good news, because Chinese media has reported that backorders for about 500,000 Bing Dwen Dwens have piled up on the doorstep of a factory with a production capacity of about 4,000 — not a typo — per day.
There is an alternative: Shuey Rhon Rhon, the mascot of the Paralympic Games, which organizers describe as a “Chinese lantern child.” Shuey Rhon Rhon’s name encompasses concepts of both snow and tolerance, a noble ideal when talking about Winter Paralympic Games.
But so far, nobody’s flocking to stores to get their hands on Shuey Rhon Rhon goods; it’s the “Is Pepsi OK?” of Beijing Olympic mascots.
In the cavernous hall of the Main Media Center in Beijing, an enormous version of Bing Dwen Dwen hangs high in the air, a gentle blank smile on its face. BDD is vast and also unreachable, which is pretty on-point right now. Outside of China, Bing Dwen Dwen will probably be forgotten by March, but inside China, Bing Dwen Dwen is clearly going to be popular until the next Olympics arrives here.