Over the past year it’s been impossible to travel for more than five minutes without seeing a Haibao, the Expo’s mascot and the good will ambassador. He’s been everywhere: stuffed toys, t-shirts, large statues, earrings, lunch boxes, shrubbery and even wall murals. That’s right, just like the Egyptian Pharaohs of Thebes, Haibao is now engraved into the very architecture of the city.
With the Expo now closed what’s in store for Haibao? Will he be forgotten like so many mascots before him or will he become a design classic, immortalised like the Pharaohs?
At his conception Hai Bao was selected from a stifling 26,655 entrants to become the face of Shanghai’s Expo. His name translates as “treasure of the sea” and he was designed to “embody the culture and spirit of the hosting…city”.
Yet, despite the fierce competition and profound symbolic meaning behind Haibao, he resembles little more than a blue quaffed-blob and bears an uncanny resemblance to South Park’s character Towlie.
Towlie who was designed, by South Park’s creators, Matt Stone and Tray Parker, to be a shallow, two-dimensional character with no real purpose expect to “spout catch phrases and merchandise the hell out of”. It’s clear that the two have more in common than just looks.
Haibao merchandise has played a big part in the success of the Expo. Watching the crowds at various pavilions it appeared that no child was without their Haibao soft toy. Authorities were so protective of their brand-name mascot that in August of this year the police rounded up thousands of fake Haibao toys from Nanjing Roal Mall and, allegedly, incinerated them in front of passing pedestrians – a menacing warning for those who dare purchase the unofficial Haibao.
In a press release prior to the Expo, the world was told that “The emblems of past World Expos have turned into unique intangible legacy” however the legitimacy of this statement is questionable – can you name a single one?. If it wasn’t for China’s consumerist nature it’s likely that Haibao too would to be forgotten with the rest of the Expo mascots. But what Haibao lacks in style or originality, he makes-up for in numbers and for this reason alone it’s likely that we will be seeing his blue face for a while to come.