- By Catherine A. TraywickCatherine A. Traywick is a fellow at Foreign Policy.
Florentijn Hofman’s Giant Rubber Ducky has stirred both emotions and controversy during its tour of Asia this year. While the massive inflatable bath toy has enchanted tens of thousands of viewers, it’s also made children cry in Hong Kong, faced censorship in China, and survived a supertyphoon in Taiwan.
Now, it seems the duck has met a rather untimely (and less than dignified) end, following a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that hit Taiwan Thursday. Taiwanese officials said that the quake caused the 59-foot sculpture to deflate while on display in Taoyuan township. When workers attempted to re-inflate the duck, its rear end exploded, "rendering it a flattened yellow disc floating on a pond."
Officials said the damage to the duck’s rear would be difficult to repair, an announcement that upset many Taoyuan’s residents — including county Councilor Chan Chiang-tsun, who called for 10-second silence in tribute to the fallen duck. But followers need not don their mourning clothes yet; As it turns out, the Kaohsiung city government has a spare giant inflatable duck, which will be up and smiling in no time.
Taiwan began petitioning to host the duck in 2009, when government officials saw it on display in Osaka and declared themselves smitten by the delightful creature. When the duck finally came to Kaohsiung in September, it drew half a million visitors in the first five days, and 3.9 million visitors over a month — even in the midst of a typhoon.
The giant duck has visited 13 countries and many more cities, charming kids of all ages with its big, orange smile and apolitical stance (It’s creator, Florentijn Hofman, maintains that the the duck "knows no frontiers…doesn’t discriminate and doesn’t have a political connotation.")
Its much anticipated visit to Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor this past summer fueled a cottage industry of rubber duck paraphenalia, from plush duckies to duck-shaped dim sum. It was so popular that cities in China began commissioning their own (very amusing) versions of the the Rubber Duck (including one that looked like a cartoon baby chicken, and a ferry made up to look like a roasted duck). Beijing finally got an authentic version of the duck in September, though residents complained about the steep viewing fee and Hong Kong denounced it for its "inferior" quality.