Protest in HK in response to Pokémon name change

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Name change of Pikachu sparks controversy in Hong Kong
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  • Thursday, June 2, 2016

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Around 20 members of a radical political group named Civic Passion organized a demonstration outside the Japanese consulate in Central on May 31, 2016 to protest the name change of Pikachu, where its original Cantonese name 比卡超 (pronounced Bei-kaa-ciu) becomes 皮卡丘 (pronounced like Pei-kaa-yau).

The name change was the result of the upcoming release of Chinese localizations of Pokémon Sun and Moon. During the simultaneous worldwide announcement of the aforementioned games, Nintendo revealed that Pokémon will be officially known as 精靈寶可夢 Jīnglíng Bǎokěmèng in all three regions. Tsunekazu Ishihara confirmed that the name was partially derived from its two former names: 寵物小精靈 Chúngmaht Síujīnglīng (used in HK) and 神奇寶貝 Shénqí Bǎobèi (used in Taiwan). The current name itself was first unveiled in Mainland China in late 2011.

On May 10, 2016, Nintendo released a new set of Chinese names for the first 151 Pokémon in an effort to unify the different names used between the regions. Most of the names used were derived from the Mandarin translation, while 24 of the names from the current set were new translations. As mentioned, Pikachu's Cantonese name was one of those that received a change to its Mandarin counterpart. However, the change of Pikachu's name does not affect Taiwan and Mainland China, where Mandarin is the official language.

In response to the name changes, fans have also taken their complaints onto the Nintendo HK Facebook page, as well as various social media outlets.

The controversy stems from the difference in pronunciation of the name between Cantonese and Mandarin, as well as political tensions between Hong Kong and Mainland China. Some citizens have even perceived the name change as mainlandization or the implementation of sociocultural system used in the Mainland on Hong Kong.

While considered to be single language, Mandarin, Cantonese, and other varieties of the language are mutually unintelligible. Names rendered into Chinese based on pronunciation in Mandarin will differ when pronounced in Cantonese. As an example, Pikachu's Mandarin name is pronounced like Pi-Ka-Chiu in Mandarin, but becomes Pei-kaa-yau in Cantonese. Though despite the difference in pronunciation, all varieties of Chinese shares a standard written form.

It should be noted that the former names have been used in official materials such as the dub (Mandarin and Cantonese) and various manga series for nearly two decades. In addition, the Mandarin names were originally based on the Taiwanese translations, which was later adopted in Mainland China. Moreover, most Pokémon from the later generations have essentially the same name in all three regions.