Luo Baobei on Sanlitun South Street

YOU DON’T KNOW Luo Baobei? Impossible. Those who regularly find themselves in Chaoyang district cannot help but notice the little girl with those neat bangs, those round eyes, that cutesy sneer. Around the CCTV building in the Central Business District, Sanlitun SOHO, the Bird’s Nest, the Water Cube… After two or three years of work, almost all of the fences and lamppost advertisements have switched to display Luo Baobei’s cartoon public service announcement: “Civilized Chaoyang, Magnificent with Me!” Luo Baobei, after all, is the “Civilized Little Angel of Chaoyang District.” At first a garish eyesore, the cartoon has now become just another a part of daily life from which Chaoyang residents must divert their eyes. Residents have easily numbed themselves to the sight, from which one can observe the robustness of their immunity to their environment. One can grumble about the multifariously poor aesthetic taste found in urban China, but in the end you can only forgive it. There is inexhaustible humor in the Chinese cityscape: ghastly buildings, baffling public sculptures, and bizarre propaganda posters. You cannot help but pity the outburst of whimsy and unique taste of municipal and district governments. This aesthetic does not fit with the stiffness of the collectivism period, nor does it realize thorough and advanced commercialization; it is instead the form of wonderful and chaotic intermingling born of the process of development. Luo Baobei is thus a semblance much like the five Fuwa mascots, whose every aspect provoked the derision of all.

Luo Baobei is nothing like what we might imagine from the pen of the secretary of propaganda of Chaoyang district. The image has an entire team working behind it, accompanied by the development of various derivative products as well as a website. Luo Baobei even has her own Weibo account, where she maintains a certain degree of activity in the virtual world. She owes her existence to the requirements of the Chaoyang management image project, or perhaps she is also just another outlet for the marketing of cartoon products— the more attentive will find that Luo Baobei has acquired no small number of new accessories over the last couple of years. Those working behind the scenes are placing all of their hopes on Luo Baobei, attempting to mold her into a virtual idol along the lines of Japan’s “Project Diva.” For now, however, looking upon the figure sketched in simple lines on gargantuan billboards towering over Chaoyang, one can only feel an implausible, wild kind of ambition. (Translated by R. Tyler Cotton)