Quartz is the first to report that Pikachu, the official mascot of the Pokémon video game series and arguably the most recognizable fictional character on the planet, is undergoing a name change in one of its largest markets: China and Hong Kong. Residents are seriously unhappy about it.
— Kotaku (@Kotaku) May 30, 2016
More specifically, Hong Kong residents are upset that Nintendo has finally translated its Pokémon games into Mandarin Chinese, both traditional and simplified, but has not done the same with Cantonese Chinese, the official language of Hong Kong.
The complete translation includes the names of the Pokémon themselves, and therein lies the biggest problem. Cantonese speakers feel insulted and outraged that the new Chinese Pokémon names are very close to the existing Mandarin translations and are not at all like the Cantonese translations.
The drastic name change for Pikachu, the most iconic Pokémon of all, has caused the most stir in the Hong Kong community.
— Decima Computers (@tizai) May 31, 2016
Individual Pokémon names used to differ across Chinese regions depending on the localized dialect. For example, Pikachu’s name in Hong Kong was 比卡超 (Bei-kaa-chyu), 精靈寶可夢 in Mainland China, and 寵物小精靈 in Taiwan. All three names were created to blend in with existing local dialect. The different names were even reflected in the Pokémon comics, anime, and movies produced for the regions.
Now that The Pokémon Company is creating a unified Chinese Pokémon universe, though, all of that is changing. And the new translations of Pokémon being forced upon the entire Chinese-speaking world — be it the Mandarin-speaking Mainland or the Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong — are much closer to the Mainland Chinese (Mandarin) versions of Pokémon terminology.
The new Pokémon name translations are not exactly the same as the original Mandarin names, but they are a lot more similar to them than they are to the Hong Hong names, and those in Hong Kong reportedly feel as if their linguistic history is being attacked.
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) May 26, 2016
Wong Yeung-tat, founder of a group of radicals in Hong Kong that advocates for independence from China and Chinese culture, elaborates on why Hong Kong citizens are taking such offense at the name changes for everything in the Pokémon universe, and especially the iconic yellow-coated and red-cheeked electric mouse known in the English-speaking world as Pikachu.
“Our culture [and] language is threatened by the Beijing government, Mandarin, and simplified Chinese. We’re afraid Cantonese may be disappearing.”
Nintendo almost certainly did not mean to cause this kind of upset. In fact, notes Game Rant, the company has traditionally been very sensitive to regional dialect preferences in respect to the Pokémon world.
Pokemon Theory: Pokemon Exist on Earth?!
— Ника Ершова (@casinoinlasvega) May 29, 2016
But Hong Kong residents, who are already witnessing their traditional language, Cantonese, dying out in their school systems, see Nintendo’s decision as an attack on their culture.
“From Nintendo’s standpoint, a unified Chinese translation is probably a simple commercial decision,” writes the Quartz article.
“But to Hong Kong activists, language is also political.”
Hong Kong’s strong reaction to the new translations is causing many of its residents to actually take up signs and protest.
The protesters hold up signs with slogans demanding the change be reversed, and they march through the streets while chanting the Cantonese Pokémon TV show theme song.
— Zheping Huang (@pingroma) May 30, 2016
The protesters make it clear, though, that their message is not just about Pokémon; it is about defending Hong Kong’s cultural identity from the onslaught on multi-national corporations.
“[Nintendo] should respect our local culture. Defend local language,” said 18-year-old Chu Sung Tak, one of the protesters.
The streets of Hong Kong are not the only place locals are protesting, either. Hong Kong’s plight has gained a massive amount of traction online, being covered by many major online publications, and the sentiments of Hong Kong social media opposed to the change has been greatly publicized.
“Pikachu is 比卡超, not 皮卡丘, I hereby vow I will never buy from Nintendo again, unless you finally understand what is Cantonese and the correct Chinese usage,” wrote one gamer on a Hong Kong Pokémon fan’s Facebook group page written in Cantonese.
“Nintendo, why do you want to insult Cantonese?”
Again, as Comic Book and other sources point out, angering Hong Kong residents was undoubtedly an inadvertent move on Nintendo’s part. Now that they find themselves in the middle of it, though, what will be their next move?
[Photo by Stephen Chernin/Getty Images]