Last week we told you that Apple had launched the iTunes Store in twelve new regions, mostly in Asia and the Pacific. One of those was Hong Kong. While the launch appears to have gone smoothly from a technical standpoint, some of Apple’s translation choices have raised eyebrows among Hong Kong’s natives.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the controversy stems from Apple’s choice to use Mandarin pinyin to transliterate the names of certain songs and albums, particularly from the Cantopop genre. (Pinyin is a method of transliterating Mandarin Chinese into Roman letters, so that speakers of languages like English can attempt to pronounce it.) The bulk of Hong Kong’s population speaks Cantonese, not Mandarin, however, and regards Beijing with suspicion at best. To them, Apple’s use of Mandarin pinyin to transliterate the titles is just another example of the increasing intrusion of Mandarin in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has only been under Chinese rule for 15 years. The island city was captured by Great Britain during the First Opium War in 1841 and officially ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Nanking in 1842. In 1984, the UK and China signed a treaty agreeing that Hong Kong would revert to Chinese rule on July 1st, 1997. Under the terms of the treaty, Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China, and enjoys an usual degree of autonomy. Locals tend to resent attempts by the Chinese government to increase its influence in the region.
I contacted Apple to try and ascertain their thoughts on the situation, and whether there were any plans to change the transliterations from Mandarin to Cantonese. They have not yet responded.