Apple’s Hong Kong iTunes Store Screws Up Its Chinese


All the Apple fans I know were deliriously happy when Apple finally opened a Hong Kong edition of its iTunes store.  Previously all HK had was the App Store.  Now we can rent and buy movies and buy music locally and legally without having to jump through hoops of fire to do so.

Apple did mess up one bit though.  According to Cult of Mac (quoting from the Wall Street Journal), in those places where the store is listing Chinese music using western characters, they’re using romanized Mandarin words rather than Cantonese.

For example, the popular Cantonese pop song titled “Autumn Wind, Autumn Rain” would be written and pronounced as qiu feng qiu yu using Mandarin pinyin. Though there is no broadly accepted official system for rendering Cantonese using the Roman alphabet, a transliteration for Cantonese speakers would be closer to cou feng cou yu.

If you’re not in Hong Kong, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “So what?  BFD?”  But in Hong Kong, it is a big fucking deal.  It’s not just that Apple is selling Canto-pop with Mandarin names.  People in HK are unhappy about many things these days and one of them is any business that seems to be catering to Mainlanders at the expense of locals.  This means that shops that have signs in Simplified Chinese rather than Traditional often find themselves the targets of protesters and boycotts.  Any sales or privileges targeting Mainland Chinese and excluding local people also get met with a similar reaction.  All of this stuff is extremely well publicized – in the news media as well as on social media.

This sort of carelessness always leaves me stunned.  And yet … most people in western countries who have never traveled to Asia (and some who have) don’t even realize that a difference exists, that there are more than one Chinese dialect or writing system.  And yet, one would think, that a global company like Apple would be savvy enough to hire people who know and understand these differences.  Except that ignorant managers can’t make informed decisions when hiring, can they?



6 thoughts on “Apple’s Hong Kong iTunes Store Screws Up Its Chinese

  1. Kelly@thehungryegghead

    There is no harm adopting Mandarin as the official language while retaining Cantonese as the local Hong Kong dialect. It is pretty cool that MTR announcements are made in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English.

  2. eric

    As Cantonese is thousands of years older than Mandarin, maybe it should be the other way around…

  3. Gary Kirchherr

    Kelly, you can’t be serious. If you really are that unaware of what’s going on in Hong Kong these days, at least re-read the second-to-last paragraph of Spike’s post for an update.

    I hadn’t realized Apple’s Hong Kong store was doing this, and I am in complete agreement with Spike that Apple is guilty of jaw-dropping stupidity here. Whether you really believe Mandarin should be the official language of Hong Kong, you don’t need an MBA to realize you shouldn’t go out of your way to infuriate your potential customers. And yes, listing song titles in pinyin instead of romanized Cantonese on Hong Kong’s Apple Store is begging for a backlash, as I’m sure Apple is already finding out.

  4. Kelly@thehungryegghead

    I know what’s going on with Hong Kong, China, C.Y.Leung, and all that other stuff especially since I read English and Chinese newspapers. I stand by my previous comment.

    If a store believes that their bread and butter is a certain type of customer should they not cater to them? The Dymocks in SOHO carries no Chinese books in their book store and I don’t see people getting upset. It’s the same concept.

    Cantonese may be older than Mandarin, but age alone is not enough or Latin would be widely spoken. Economic and military power matter more.

    Lest you think I support communisim, I don’t. My grandfather was killed by them during the cultural revolution because he was rich.

    But I am practical. The purpose of language is to unify people and allow them to communicate better. Since Mandarin is the official language of Mainland China and HK is now a part of Mainland China, is it not more practical for Hong Kongers to learn to speak both Mandarin?

    I think the US should adopt the metric system and I am a proud US citizen who learned the US system before the metric. It is all a matter of practicality.

    As for what Apple is doing, if Hong Kongers are so upset, they can boycott iTunes and see what happens. They can also stop buying Apple products to further their agenda.

    I speak Shanghainese, Mandarin, English, and Cantonese. English was the easiest to learn followed by Mandarin. Shanghainese and Cantonese are equally difficult.

  5. davethevet

    With all due respect Kelly, that is possibly the most naive thing I have seen written on the internet in a very long time, on so many different levels.

    I really want to elaborate but I dont see the point in arguing on the internet.

    I have more important things to do, like feeding my cats.

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