A modern cartoon figure in traditional Chinese colours, the Beijing 2008 Paralympic mascot "Fu Niu Lele" started its term as friendship ambassador on Wednesday, when a grand launching ceremony was held at the foot of the Great Wall's Badaling section.
The happy young cow expresses harmonious co-existence between mankind and nature and reflects both disabled athletes striving to make progress and the Beijing Paralympic Games concepts of "Transcendence, Equality and Integration."
In contemplating the mascot, the designer sought to express the spirit of disabled people through a simple image.
"The cow is one of the first animals in history for people to become connected with," said Wu Guanying, the main designer. The mascot "derives its inspiration from the farming and cultivation culture of ancient Chinese civilization."
"The Paralympic Games calls for people with a disability to enjoy the same rights, to compete in sports as anyone else, and to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world, and thus develop their strength to add vigour and vitality to social progress, and the cow represents the same ideas."
Although the final choice of the mascot perfectly conveys the spirit of the disabled, the image of the cow was not on the original candidates list.
The discussion about the Paralympic Games started from last December, after the unveiling of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games mascots "Fu Wa".
On December 30, 2005, the judging panel discussed the 87 designs and finally shortened them to three. They were the image of the Chinese river dolphin, or lipotes vexillifer, and two figures from traditional Chinese mythology, the Monkey King and Ne Zha.
Then, the three designs were passed to the revising group, which was led by Wu, a professor of Academy of Arts and Design, Tsinghua University.
"During the revision, we found that the Monkey King and the dolphin had been used in too many fields, making it hard to avoid repetition and potentially causing problems in protecting Olympic intellectual property rights," Wu recalled.
"As for Ne Zha, we decided that his rebellious spirit is not suitable for Paralympic athletes. So, we considered giving up on them and seeking an alternative."
At the same time, an image of a lovely cow came up in Wu's mind.
"Since disabled people commonly live around us, we should also have a common animal to be the mascot. So while revising the three original designs, it occurred to me that a cow might be appropriate," said Wu. "I grew up in the countryside and was once a cow herder, so I know that the cow is one of the animals closest to human beings. Cows are well-known for their friendliness and their affinity to the humans who care for them."
In traditional Chinese culture, cows are often depicted as auspicious animals in that hey invite good weather and bumper harvests.
"An image of a lovely cartoon cow with his hands behind his back and trying to take a first step jumped into my mind," Wu said.
Hearing suggestions from experts in arts and sports, as well as from disabled people, the final image of the mascot gradually emerged.
Unlike the five "Fu Wa", who have complex designs for headwear, "Fu Niu Lele" is much more simple.
"The general idea for the design is simple, since the meaning that the cow bears for disabled people is enough and we don't have to add too much to the design," Wu said. "Therefore, the final image of the mascot is relaxing and clean, featuring only the characteristics of the cow itself, with no other complicated decorations."
Although simple, the mascot is still a harmonious combination of traditional Chinese culture and modern cartoon style.
"The design scheme absorbs the modelling and design styles unique to China's folk engraved prints. The colours of the mascot are rooted in traditional Chinese New Year drawings, and toys," Wu introduced. "This, plus features unique to the modelling of modern cartoons, shows an integration of traditional folk style and public interest in modern times."
Getting final approval from the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) on August 28, 2006, the mascot also won high praise from people.
"The image of the cow totally reflect the spirits of disabled people, such as being down-to-earth, diligent, determined and having a never-say-die spirit," said Wang Tao, one of the representatives of disables people in the judging panel. "The determined, optimistic and diligent spirit of cows also reflects a positive attitude towards life, which is similar to us disabled people."
After the unveiling ceremony, the licensed mascot products and stamps have been put on the shelves of licensed stores.
From the sketch to the toy, Wu contributed his efforts as well.
"In order to maintain consistency between the sketch and the toy, I stayed at the factory workshop for two days to adjust the colours and the models," said Wu. "I believe the mascot toys will be sure to appeal to children."
Besides making toys, Wu's next job is to make future designs for the mascots, such as TV cartoons and sporting images of the mascot.
"'Lele' is like one of my children and every one of his movements is alive to me," said Wu. "I'm working on some future designs for him at present."
Source: China Daily