Official mascot makes debut at Duke Kunshan

The official mascot of Duke Kunshan University has made its debut appearance, featuring at varsity sports fixtures and the long-awaited return of the Family Weekend.

The deer design was chosen earlier this year to represent the university and instill pride across campus.

It was revealed to the wider DKU community at the Family Weekend on Nov. 3-4 — a showcase of academic and extracurricular life on campus — and has been proudly displayed at recent sporting occasions.

Members of the Duke Kunshan community voted for the deer after a committee representative of the university population presented them with potential designs.

“The new mascot is a unifying symbol for Duke Kunshan’s diverse community,” said Director of DKU Athletics Dr. Zarko Krkeljas.

“As a physical representation of the DKU identity, it captures the university’s unique global spirit and will help shape its culture for generations to come.

“Further, the mascot will support efforts to increase awareness of Duke Kunshan and its programs and services, both to the local community and across the world.”

The deer mascot was front and center of celebrations at a tournament in Shanghai last month

The concept for the winning design was inspired by Kunshan’s historical association with deer, which in Chinese culture symbolize longevity and good fortune.

References to Kunshan as the “Deer City” can be traced back to the Ch’un-ch’iu or Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history (eighth to fifth centuries B.C.).

The Office of Student Affairs formed a mascot committee in 2019 to lead the process of creating and delivering an official mascot for Duke Kunshan.

The make-up of the committee was reflective of the DKU community, comprising a diverse group of students, staff and faculty.

The process was paused during the COVID-19 pandemic but this summer the committee produced two designs — the deer and a phoenix — so the DKU community could pick its favorite.

Nearly 1,000 people voted, with the deer concept emerging as the clear winner.

Yanfei Mao, the first captain of the women’s varsity basketball team at DKU, was one of the student members of the mascot committee.

“As part of the first generation I wanted to help shape the university’s identity so I was very happy to join the committee,” said Mao, who is from the inaugural undergraduate Class of 2022.

Zarko Krkeljas and Yanfei Mao

“Kunshan is the deer city and the deer is a symbol of good luck. I remember someone saying that deer are brave and willing to forge ahead.

“They are strong but not aggressive and they are prepared to struggle to get the rewards. I think that’s a good image to present to wider society.”

A range of mascot-themed merchandise is in the pipeline as well as a costume so the deer can be a physical presence at a variety of Duke Kunshan occasions, such as sporting events and recruitment days.

The mascot image is already having an impact on the sports field, helping to inspire DKU’s football teams on Saturday as they continued their winning form.

The women beat local team Lakeside Ladies 8-1, while the men secured a 5-2 win over the University of Nottingham Ningbo (UNNC). But UNNC had the upper hand in the basketball, defeating both DKU sides.

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