What are these things?
The short answer is they are the cute salable mascots for the 2008 Summer Beijing Olympic Games.
The longer answer is they represent The Olympic Flame, The Giant Panda, The Tibetan Antelope, The Shayan Kite, and The Chinese Sturgeon.
The most recent answer is that they are The Bearer of Incendiary Strife, The Lord of Angry Earth, The Creature of Righteous Unrest, The Bearer of Unfortunate Wind, and The Bringer of Torrent and Flood.
Those are much more fun, don’t you think!
It seems the more superstitious of the Chinese suspect that these mascots are the causes of recent strife in China, respectively, the most problematic and protested olympic torch relay in history, the Sichuan earthquake, Tibetan protests, a train crash, and widespread flooding.
I am sympathetic, to these natural and man-influenced disasters, but I am quite humored that these cute, neo-corporate, marketing tools may be at the root cause of it all.
Somehow life is easier to bear for humans when there is some supernatural power causing all the problems.