May 31 at 5:50 AM
Dozens of people dressed up as Pikachu,dance with fans in suburban Tokyo, on August 16, 2015. (TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
Children the world over have grown up with the cherubic, lightning bolt-inspired, mouse-like creature known as Pikachu, the central character of the Pokemon media franchise. Spanning television shows, trading cards and more, the company celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and is in turn releasing two new video games: “Pokemon Sun” and “Pokemon Moon.”
In Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China, the games will be released in simplified and traditional Chinese this December, but not all fans are pleased.
The discontent stems, in essence, from the difference between the traditional Hong Kong translation of Pikachu — “Bei-kaa-chyu” — and the Mandarin translation — “Pi-ka-qiu.”
The distinction may seem trivial, but it speaks to a broader fear among Hong Kong residents: that Mandarin Chinese, the language of mainland China, is gradually replacing the Cantonese dialect most widely used in Hong Kong.
Pokemon products have long adhered to local translations. But “Pokemon Sun” and “Pokemon Moon” will introduce, for the first time, a unified translation across Greater China that privileges Mandarin, the company announced earlier this year.
This will also change the original Hong Kong name for “Pokemon” from “Little Pet Spirits” to “Pokemon Spirits,” and so on.
Quartz reported that dozens gathered outside the Japanese Consulate in Hong Kong this Monday to protest the change. The protesters, many of whom belong to the radical localist group Civic Passion, (localists worry about Hong Kong’s identity and autonomy) called for Nintendo to offer a unique Cantonese translation for the new games.
Protesters sang the Pokemon theme song in Cantonese as they raised banners that read “No Pi-ka-qiu give me Bei-kaa-chyu,” according to Quartz.
“Our culture [and] language is threatened by the Beijing government, Mandarin and simplified Chinese,” Civic Passion leader Wong Yeung-tat told Quartz. “We’re afraid Cantonese may be disappearing.”
In a statement last week, Nintendo’s Hong Kong office encouraged all Chinese Pokemon lovers, regardless of whether they spoke Cantonese or Mandarin, to adopt the global pronunciation of “Pikachu.”
The Washington Post’s Simon Denyerreported on Hong Kong’s struggles in China’s shadow in 2013, as Mandarin became the preferred language among luxury shoppers in Hong Kong.
In 2014, Hong Kong’s Education Bureauapologized after stating on its website that Cantonese is not an official language of the city. The laws list English and Chinese as the official languages, but do not specify whether “Chinese” points to Cantonese or Mandarin. In mainland China, Cantonese is often characterized as an “uncivilized” tongue in comparison to Mandarin.
Two unofficial surveys have found that a near-majority of Hong Kong schools now teach Mandarin over Cantonese.
A Facebook page dedicated to fighting the new Chinese Pokemon translations has more then 2,500 members.
Longtime fan Kenny Chu told Japan Today:”[Bei-kaa-chyu] is a collective memory of Hong Kong and I want to defend our significant local culture, which was neglected by Nintendo.”