The Fuwas, or the five mascots of the 29th Olympic Games, were unveiled on November 11, 2005, exactly one thousand days before the Beijing Olympics.
Their names, in order, are Bei Bei, Jing Jing, Huan Huan, Ying Ying and Ni Ni, and taken together, they stand for Beijing Welcomes You (Beijing huanying ni in Chinese).
Since then, a series of mascot souvenirs, ranging from toys, key chains and jewelries to backpacks, clothes and kites, have been welcomed warmly by people home and abroad. The popularity of the Fuwas soared when a cartoon series starring the five mascots -- The Olympic Adventures of Fuwa -- was broadcast from August 8, 2007, a year before the Olympics.
Exclusive to the Olympics
Approved by the Beijing Organizing Committee of the XXIX Olympiad, Olympic Adventures is jointly produced by Beijing Television Station (BTV) and Kaku Cartoon.
The series tells of the origin, development, as well as the rules and disciplines of each Olympic event. "Chinese elements", such as history and culture, ancient legends, the life stories of Chinese athletes, are also covered. In other words, the series can be regarded as a made-in-China animation that combines the Olympic spirit with Chinese characteristics. The chief director of the project is Zeng Weijing, recognized as one of the top 10 animation directors by the China Cartoon Industry Forum. With a total budget of 50 million yuan (approximately $6.6 million), the first season has been broadcast in 100 eleven-minute episodes.
The music is also worth a mention. The theme song, Beijing Welcomes You, is based on the five basic notes in ancient Chinese music, equivalent to Do Re Mi So La. Moreover, the lyrics comprise just one sentence -- Beijing Welcomes You -- and there are no accompanying musical instruments, just the chorus.
The voiceover artists selected to dub for the Fuwas are also responsible for the show's popularity. Actresses Tao Hong ("Bei Bei") and Mei Ting ("Jing Jing"), singers Jin Haixin ("Huan Huan") and Zhang Liangying ("Ying Ying"), and TV host Cao Ying ("Ni Ni"), are household names in China.
"I was fascinated after watching the demo, and learned more about the Olympics after doing the voiceover," said Jin Haixin. "More importantly; I'm blessed to have this opportunity to contribute to the Olympics."
A well begun
With a well-planned warm-up promotion behind it, the animation has done outstandingly well in terms of ratings. It reached 2.06 (one point represents approximately 65,000 audiences) on August 8, hitting 2.16 a week later, while the average ratings of the animation nationwide floated between 0.5 and 1.2. The Olympic animation has dominated the top of the cartoon channel rating list since then.
Moreover, a book of the same name was released at the end of September. Actress Tao Hong, dubbing for Bei Bei, attended the book release.
"As a retired athlete, I am still, from bottom of my heart, passionate about sports," she said. "To me, the Olympics is just like an encyclopedia, for most of my experiences were gained from the sports. So I think kids will benefit from watching it."
The second season of The Olympic Adventures of Fuwa has been aired on BTV since October 1. The animation is also being broadcast on trains, in a non-profit program launched by BTV, Kaku Cartoon and the Ministry of Railways. The Fuwas will thus travel around China to promote the Olympics.
One of the best animations
Adults are also big fans of the series.
"I like the way they tell stories," said Zhang Shuhua, a housewife. "I was enlightened by the animation, and I watch it with my son if I have time. He is eight years old and his favorite mascot is Jing Jing."
Sun Changjian, an IT professional, is also impressed. "I don't have too much time to watch TV. But this animation is very interesting. Unlike other animations of this kind, the content is not shallow or childish."
Besides catering to a variety of tastes in China, the animation also enjoys an international reputation. It shared the Best Production award with a South Korean animation at the Asian Animation Comics Contest (AACC) on September 8, defeating nearly 120 other competitors. As the highest-level contest of its kind in Asia, the AACC is a big event for Asian animations and comics; a total of 2,976 works from 28 countries and regions took part in this year's event.
Sun Lijun, Dean of the Animation School of the Beijing Film Academy, is all praise for the animation.
"By and large, the animation industry in China in the last two decades has been a 'processor' rather than a 'creator'," he said. "But Olympic Adventures is unique. It is made in China, and we can see the wisdom and imagination of the production team."
The adoption of advanced technology contributes to its success as well.
"The most difficult thing is that the Fuwas are all plane figures," said director Zeng Weijing. "So we made three-dimensional Fuwa models and used the latest two- and three-dimension technology during production. They look more vivid, aren't they?"