Date
23 January 2017
Protesters demonstrate outside the Japanese Consulate General in Hong Kong against the replacement of beloved Pokemon character Pikachu's Cantonese name with its Putonghua version. Photo: Facebook
Protesters demonstrate outside the Japanese Consulate General in Hong Kong against the replacement of beloved Pokemon character Pikachu's Cantonese name with its Putonghua version. Photo: Facebook

Plan to rename Pikachu angers Hongkongers

Japanese game-maker Nintendo is about to release two new games in its hugely popular Pokemon series.

But a decision to use only Putonghua names for the characters has proved controversial in Hong Kong, the BBC reports.

Nintendo’s decision is seen in the city’s tense political climate as a further step in its “mainlandization”.

Pokemon characters’ names used to be translated differently in different parts of the Chinese-speaking world, to reflect local pronunciation.

Hence, the hugely beloved Pikachu was known for decades as Beikaatciu (比卡超) in Hong Kong and Pikaqiu (皮卡丘) in mainland China.

But Nintendo announced earlier this year that it would be unifying the names of more than 100 Pokemon characters and has renamed many of them in line with the Putonghua versions.

Cantonese and Putonghua speakers both read Chinese, although people in Hong Kong use the traditional Chinese script, while people on mainland China use simplified Chinese.

However, the same words can be pronounced differently in each language.

For example, Pikachu’s new official Chinese name, 皮卡丘, is pronounced pi2ka3qiu1 in Mandarin.

But in Cantonese, those characters would be pronounced pei4kaa1jau1 – which Hong Kong critics argue sound nothing like Pikachu’s original name.

More than 6,000 people signed a petition in March asking Nintendo to reverse its decision.

Then on Monday, dozens of people protested at the Japanese Consulate General in Hong Kong.

“Our main point is that the translation ignores Hong Kong’s culture,” said a spokesman from a Facebook group known as Petition to keep Regional Chinese Translations of Pokemon.

“There’s no respect for it.

“We are aware of the reasons behind Nintendo’s translation, presumably to make it easier for purposes such as publicity, but the move ignores a lot of players.

“We hope the Hong Kong market can be taken seriously and treated sincerely.”

The BBC said the dispute taps into growing local fears that Cantonese — along with local culture and tradition — is being supplanted by Putonghua.

Professor Stephen Matthews of the School of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong said: “In the last few years, people have felt that what makes Hong Kong special is disappearing bit by bit, and what is an issue of Pokemon, which is fairly trivial, becomes a big one, because it’s very sensitive.”

Last year, the city’s Education Bureau caused an uproar when it suggested that Cantonese was not an official language.

Hongkongers, supported by many linguists, believe Cantonese is a proper language, on par with Putonghua.

“I think language is perhaps one of the most important things that marks Hong Kong from the rest of China,” said Matthews.

In February, Hong Kong officials received more than 10,000 complaints in three days after a television program began using subtitles in simplified Chinese characters instead of the traditional script.

Hong Kong activist group Civic Passion organised Monday’s demonstration.

“Pikachu has been in Hong Kong for more than 20 years,” said Sing Leung, one of those who took part.

“It is not simply a game or comic book — it is the collective memory of a generation.”

“It was a good decision for them to launch a Chinese version of the game, but it has not respected the culture and language of specific places.”

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RA/FL 

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