Chinese Pokémon Cards

Contrary to popular misconception – not all Chinese Pokémon cards are counterfeits. Though many fake cards have been produced over the years, officially licensed products were released in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and never in mainland China, due to licensing issues. This article will focus mainly on the Chinese base set, produced by wizards of the coast in 2000, and the Ex Legend Maker set, released by the Pokemon Company in 2006.

1. Pokémon in Chinese

First off – a quick lesson in Chinese language. The official Pokémon brand was formally known as 神奇宝贝 in Chinese, which is pronounced Shénqí Bǎobèi, and literally means magical babies. That is a direct translation, as Shénqí can also mean mysterious, miraculous. Bǎobèi can also be interpreted as treasured objects. In Hong Kong, the spoken language is Cantonese, the name 宠物小精灵 chong wu xiao jing ling (little pet elves) was used, but obviously in traditional characters. In Taiwan, Mandarin is the official language, as it is on the mainland, however, they also use traditional characters. I for one am hopeless at traditional characters, yet I can read the names of most of the Pokémon, because for the most part, their names tend to be written in quite simple characters, so the difference between the traditional and simplified isn’t too vast.

Recently,the official name for Pokemon in Chinese was updated to 宝可梦 bao ke meng – a transliteration of the brand’s name as it is known around the world. The idea behind the change was to update the brand, logo, and character names to fit in with the universal branding. You may have seen news reports of protests in Hong Kong, where fans were not impressed by the updated names, as the mandarin names were being used in place of the Cantonese terms. These protests weren’t just about Pokemon, fans were angry as it represented a shift away from Cantonese toward the language of the mainland. I won’t get into that in this article, as I’m not here to discuss politics!

2. Pokémon names

When I first got my hands on some Chinese cards, I had a great time going through their names. Some names are transliterations from the Japanese/English names, but the most enjoyable are new, Chinese specific names. Charizard is 喷火龙, which literally means ‘spray fire dragon’ or a better name would be ‘fire-breathing dragon’.
Magmar is 鸭嘴火龙 – literally ‘duck mouth fire dragon’, for example – a very straightforward name, but one that is unique to the Chinese version of the popular franchise. You will find the names, (as well as their meanings) of all the holo cards from the Base Set in the following section of the article.

 

3. Chinese Pokémon cards: Base Set (2000)

So which cards were available in Chinese? There was a promo card printed in Chinese as part of the World Collection:

This was just a one-off promo, as the first time Chinese collectors got to see a proper set of Pokémon cards in their native language was in the year 2000 – with everyone’s favourite – the Base Set. Because they were distributed in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the cards were printed in traditional characters, but with Mandarin names. Along with the Korean, and possibly Dutch base sets, this is one of the rarest Pokémon sets to have ever been printed.

For whatever reasons, the Chinese base set received a relatively lukewarm response in HK and Taiwan, at least when in comparison to how much it was booming in Japan and the West. As a result, the unlimited print run was very short lived, making these cards actually rarer than their 1st edition counterparts. Obviously this excludes those cards found in the base theme decks, which were readily available.

In the photos, you can see shop displays of theme decks. The yellow shop display box contains the same decks as the Western releases; Zap!, Overgrowth, Brushfire, and Blackout. The 2-player starter deck was exactly the same as the Western release, only only it did not contain the glass counters. I actually busted open every single box from the photo above, in the hopes of finding some elusive PSA 10 grades.

As for the booster boxes and booster packs – they are similar in appearance to the Western packs, but you will note that the Pokémon logo is printed in orange on the Chinese packaging, similarly to the Australian  Jungle and Fossil releases, as well as various packaging of other merchandise around Asia – leading me to speculate that there was a plan to release the other sets, but this was called off when the base set didn’t take off. I picked up the above theme decks in 2015, in a small card shop in Hong Kong. The seller was surprised I wanted them, as they’d been sat on his shelves for over 14 years.

Chinese booster packs contain the holo at the front – making it instantly rewarding/disappointing when opening them, if you’re aiming for PSA 10 copies. Many of the holos have fine scratches to the holo due to rubbing against the inner seam of the packs.

Below you can see a pack I opened to reveal a Charizard lurking within.

The cards are very well printed. I see them as a hybrid of the Japanese cards and the Western release. The layout (HP, colouring, back of the card) match those of the western release, however the holo foil and print quality are the same as the Japanese base set. Personally, I feel that this results in a beautiful looking card, blending my childhood memories of the English cards with my relatively newfound interest in the Chinese language.

So far, only three PSA 10 exist of the unlimited Chinese Charizard, and the closest anyone has got with the 1st edition is PSA 9. The whole set in general has very low PSA POP reports.

So far, I have graded over 200 Chinese cards, both holo and non-holo. They are incredibly tough to grade in a PSA 10, due to surface scratching, roller damage from the printing process, or edge-wear on the back corners of the cards. There is also issue with centering, as you can see from the photos in this article. I must have submitted around 14 Charizards by now, and the highest grade has been 9. A PSA 10 Unlimited recently sold for over 900 USD on ebay.

 

I did promise photos and names of every Base Set holo, so here we go…

1/102 Alakazam – 胡地 – Húdì

Alakazam’s Chinese name is from a transliteration of the Japanese name Foodi, which is a transliteration of Houdini.

2/102 Blastoise – 水箭龟 – Shuǐjiànguī

This name means ‘water arrow turtle’.

3/102 Chansey – 吉利蛋 – Jílìdàn

‘Lucky egg’

4/102 CHarizard – 喷火龙 – pen huo long

‘Spray fire dragon’

5/102 Clefairy – 皮皮 – Pípí

Transliteration of the Japanese name Pippi

 

6/102 Gyarados – 暴鲤龙 – Bàolǐlóng

Violent Carp Dragon

7/102 Hitmonchan 艾比郎 – Àibǐláng

Hitmonchan is no longer named Àibǐláng, as Pokemon updated it to 快拳郎 Kuàiquánláng. The original name was a partial transliteration from the Japanese name, withthe final character of the name meaning ‘young males’. Seems odd that they didn’t go with the reference to Jackie Chan as the English name did. His new name means ‘fast fist young man’.

8/102 Machamp 怪力 – Guàilì

Guài means ‘strange/monstrous’ and lì means ‘strength/power’

9/102 Magneton 三合一磁怪 – Sānhéyīcíguài

Great name, and one of my favourites – ‘three things together magnet monster’

10/102 Mewtwo – 超梦 – Chāomèng

Chao means super, meng is dream. ‘Super dream’ doesn’t make sense, so this name is more likely ‘super mew, as Mew is known as Meng.

11/102 Nidoking – 尼多王 – Níduōwáng

Another partial transliteration. ‘Ni Duo’ obviously sounds like Nido, and ‘Wang’ means king in Chinese.

12/102 Ninetales – 九尾 – Jiǔwěi

Fairly straightforward. Same name as the English card – ‘Nine Tails’

 

13/102 Poliwrath – 快泳蛙 – Kuàiyǒngwā

Another personal favourite of mine – ‘Quick Swimming Frog’. Sadly, like Hitmonchan, the name has been ditched in favour of 蚊香泳士 Wénxiāngyǒngshi – ‘Mosquito Coil Swimmer’ – in reference to the coil-like swirl on his belly. They switched the character in 勇士 (Yǒngshì – warrior) to 泳 yǒng meaning swim, to make the pun of a ‘powerful swimmer’.

14/102 Raichu – 雷丘 – Léiqiū

A straightforward transliteration.

15/102 Venusaur – 妙蛙花 – Miàowāhuā

‘Wonderful Frog Flower’

16/102 Zapdos – 闪电鸟 – Shǎndiànniǎo

‘Lightning Bird.’

 

4. Chinese Pokémon cards: EX LEGEND MAKER (2006)

After the cold response to the Base Set, Pokemon disappeared from Hong Kong and Taiwan. It seemed that Pokemon was not going to return to the regions. Six years later, the Pokemon Company released Ex Legend Maker in Taiwan, to coincide with the Taipei PokePark (more on this in the next section).

Gone was the orange logo previously seen on the Wizards of the Coast Base Set. Cards were now being made by the Pokemon Company,and obviously they were trying to bring some unity to the now worldwide branding. The artwork on the boxes represented only Pokemon from the 1st generation, even though the focus of this set was on newer monsters such as Cradily and Walrein. This implies that Pokemon was trying to regain its footing in the Chinese market, by gearing the new cards to the previous collectors/players, focusing on Pokemon they were familiar with.

Plusle/Minun preconstructed decks, featuring different cards from the EX Legend Maker set.

I managed to get my hands on a bunch of these boxes, acquired from Taiwan. Before this, they hadn’t been seen on the Western market, and I was the first to bring them to eBay! The sold quickly, with some boxes going over 500 USD.

The pull rate on this set is dreadful. I busted open more than 15 boxes, and only pulled one Goldstar, and didn’t even manage to complete the set of holos (Flygon didn’t appear once!)

Fortunately, I managed to track down a collector in Taiwan, and finally managed to complete the set.

After some back and forth, I finally managed to get BGS to grade this set, making them the first, and so far, only Chinese Ex Legend Maker cards to graded. You’ll currently find a few of these scattered around eBay, as I ended up selling them when I failed to track down the missing Flygon!

 

5. Taipei Pokepark (2006)

2006 saw the arrival of the PokePark in Taipei, Taiwan. Again, this was part of an effort to revive the brand with Chinese fans. During this period, there was a Japanese Pokemon card tournament held on-site, and the shops were full of Ex Legend Maker products. When you bought your entrance ticket to the park, you also received one of 17 promo cards, much in the same way the promos were given out with movie tickets in the West.

These promos are a mixture of POP series releases. From what I can work out, they are the same Pokemon featured in the Japanese PokePark releases, but from different sets. I’m not sure why this happened – perhaps instructions were just to release cards of the same characters, and cards were randomly selected. We’ll never know, but it makes for a very unique set of promos.

I no longer have the Pikachu, legendary dogs, trainer cards, or the Rayquaza, having sold them all to high-end collectors in the past. So don’t contact me asking for these – as far as I know, there aren’t any others left. Visitors to the PokePark were most probably little kids, so the chances of these cards surviving for over ten years in any kind of condition is highly unlikely.

Aside from the base set, and the Jungle promo from the World Collection, this is the only Chinese Pikachu card. It sold for a very high figure, and now belongs in the private collection of a high-end Pikachu collector.

 

 

To summarize, so far, these are the only cards to be printed in Chinese:

  1.  World Collection Jungle Pikachu (2000)
  2. Base Set Unlimited (2000)
  3. Base Set 1st Edition (2000)
  4. Ex Legend Maker (2006)
  5. Plusle and Minun Decks (2006)
  6. PokePark promo cards (2006)

It has been over ten years since the last Chinese cards were printed. The fact that the most recent games, Sun and Moon were released in both simplified and traditional Chinese means there is still a chance more Chinese merchandise may come.

Further strengthening this idea is the recent deal between alibaba (China‘s largest e-commerce platform) and Pokemon, agreeing to a licensing deal that means Chinese fans can finally purchase legit products in China. Watch this space, there may well be more Chinese cards one day in the future!

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