Strict Covid-19 protocols and China’s limited prospects of topping the medals table have muted local enthusiasm for the Beijing Winter Olympics, but the Games have sparked at least one public frenzy: buying and flipping official souvenirs for quick gains.
Long queues of more than 800 people outside the Beijing Arts and Crafts mall snaked through Wangfujing, one of Beijing’s most popular shopping districts, this week. All were waiting to buy Olympic souvenirs, the most popular of which are dolls of the event’s official panda bear mascot, Bing Dwen Dwen.
One shopper told the Financial Times that he had waited overnight to buy two dolls for Rmb192 ($ 30) each. He promptly resold one of them for Rmb1,000 and expected to sell the other within 24 hours.
Less patient speculators and collectors hired people to stand in line for them. Wang Micheng, a former estate agent, said a government official paid him to queue for 12 hours and buy a souvenir, illustrating the country’s rich-poor divide that President Xi Jinping has sought to address with his Common prosperity drive.
“This is easy money,” said Wang, who quit the property industry after Xi’s campaign to rein in runaway house prices led to a sharp downturn in transactions. “Selling homes is much harder,” he said.
Wang now works as a delivery man for Meituan, the online delivery company, and said he had not watched any of the Olympic events.
On Monday afternoon the going hourly rate for place-holders such as Wang was Rmb80.
Some souvenir buyers said the craze was stoked in part by the tradition of giving gifts such as expensive bottles of Moutai, a popular liquor, at lunar new near. The Olympics formally opened on February 4, the fourth day of the week-long holiday.
Wang Shun, a marketing manager at a state-owned company in Beijing, said he waited 11 hours outside the Beijing Arts and Crafts mall to buy a Bing Dwen Dwen toy for his boss’ son. “This is the most popular gift right now, better than a bottle of Moutai,” he said.
But many predict that the resale value of Olympic souvenirs, which have been on sale for two years and were largely ignored until a few days ago, will rapidly decline after the Games close on February 20, if not before.
“The cost of producing the [souvenirs] is very low, ”said one speculator. “People will lose interest in them within a month.”
Additional reporting by Tom Mitchell in Singapore