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Players Are Learning Obscure Chinese Characters in Anime Mobile Game

By Cecil Gao
Apr. 12, 2023 updated 06:15

The popular Chinese anime mobile game Azur Lane announced today that it would change the names of all Iron Blood (based on the real-world German fleet) ships in the game to avoid potential historical and political sensitivity issues. This news quickly sparked strong negative reactions among players.

However, this is not the first time that Azur Lane has changed the names of real-life ships to names that are similar. The names of all Sakura Empire (based on the real-world Japanese fleet) ships were also changed at the beginning of the game's launch.

In fact, changing names is common practice in China for games that feature real-world military equipment names, and because the alternative names used in games are sometimes very obscure, some players even end up learning new Chinese characters.

The tradition of changing the names of Japanese war equipment on Chinese servers of video games can be traced back to 2015, when World of Warships was released in China.     

The Chinese government has strict censorship policies, and due to the enormous suffering caused by the Second Sino-Japanese War during World War II, censorship standards may be even stricter. To preempt possible censorship, the Chinese server publishers of World of Warships developed its own name-changing system to rename Japanese ships in bulk.

This system categorizes ships into destroyers, cruisers, battleships, battlecruisers, and aircraft carriers based on their tactical use and assigns names based on plants, terrestrial carnivores, marine life, and birds.

Due to the need to maintain the style of the original ship names while also considering the selection of Chinese characters for the new names, the vast majority of warships use a single Chinese character for naming. For example, the Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku, which means "lucky crane" in Japanese, is translated simply as "He" on the Chinese server, meaning "crane."

Zukikaku in Azur LaneZukikaku in Azur Lane

Chinese character HeChinese character He

The pronunciation of the cruiser Kumano in Japanese is the same as the word "bear," so its name in China is Xiong, meaning bear.

The cruiser KumanoThe cruiser Kumano

Chinese character XiongChinese character Xiong

Sometimes, it's difficult to express the name of a ship using a single Chinese character, so the publishers must use very obscure and concise Chinese characters to achieve the best effect. For example, the name of the Japanese cruiser Mogami is derived from the Mogami River in the plains of Japan, while on the Chinese server, it has been changed to "Lie," referring to the hyenas living in plains and grasslands.

This is getting difficult!This is getting difficult!

Similarly to this, the aircraft carrier Taiho's name means phoenix, but that name had already been taken by the carrier Hiryu. Therefore, it was translated into the Chinese word Liao, a rare bird similar to a phoenix.

The radicals on the left part means birdThe radicals on the left part means bird

There are also extremely obscure Chinese characters such as Xue, Xiu, and Hu, which even native Chinese-speaking players may not be able to read.

These characters are ancient Chinese that not often used in daily life.These characters are ancient Chinese that not often used in daily life.

Over time, this naming convention has been adopted and is still in use today by Chinese-developed anime mobile games such as Azur Lane and Warship Girls, and players have jokingly referred to it as "playing games, learning Chinese characters".

Swinging back to the recent changes made in Azur Lane that involved the German warships, which were once part of the Axis powers. Similar to the Japanese vessels, the names of the ships with historical figures were replaced with other nicknames or the achievements they accomplished.

Bismarck has been replaces as OdiliaBismarck has been replaces as Odilia

More changes may come in the future, but in the meantime, players are getting more lessons in obscure Chinese characters.