These five Fuwa characters are the official mascots of the Beijing Games. Based on the five traditional Olympic rings (designed in 1913 to represent the five major continents), four symbolize China’s most popular animals and one stands in for the Olympic flame.
According to the official website:
Each of Fuwa has a rhyming two-syllable name… Beibei is the Fish, Jingjing is the Panda, Huanhuan is the Olympic Flame, Yingying is the Tibetan Antelope and Nini is the Swallow.
When you put their names together — Bei Jing Huan Ying Ni — they say “Welcome to Beijing”…
Turns out, the mascots also represent five curses. According to Reuters:
After a devastating earthquake struck Sichuan province last month, Internet users tied four of the five Fuwa mascots to the calamities that have struck China…
One Fuwa is a panda, the totem of Sichuan [earthquakes]. The others resemble a torch, reminding netizens of the protests against the international Olympic torch rally; a Tibetan antelope tied to widespead demonstrations in Tibetan areas; and a swallow that looks like a kite, linked to a deadly train crash in Shandong province.
The final Fuwa, sporting a fish, was left unexplained… until widespread flooding in southern and central China claimed dozens of lives in June.
Reuters reports that government censors have been removing postings about the curse so as not to fuel the superstitious. The Games, however, are still scheduled to begin at 8:08 PM on 8/8/08 — 8 being a lucky number for certain superstitious Chinese.