Although Animal Crossing: New Horizons has not officially released in China, Chinese fans have been importing the game via Taobao, the e-commerce platform associated with retailer Alibaba. However, as of April 9, it seems that this will no longer be an option.
Taobao merchants have announced that they have been banned from selling the game to Chinese customers, confirming to TechNode that this is due to “violating the site’s rules.” The ban includes not just the game itself, but all associated merchandise and hardware, including Amiibo of the game’s villagers, official Switch cases and accessories, and more.
No official reason for the ban has been given. However, the popular theory is that the ban on sales is primarily for censorship purposes. Supporters of the “Free Hong Kong” movement have been using New Horizons’ customization and pattern creation options to broadcast political messages via their islands.
Joshua Wong, a key figure in Hong Kong’s campaign for democracy, created a large sign reading “FREE HONG KONG REVOLUTION NOW” on his island. He took to Twitter to encourage other protesters to do the same, especially as the global COVID-19 pandemic has shut down the ability to perform physical acts of protest.
1/ "I play the game, I just bought it a few days ago. For lots of people around the world who play this game, they have to put their ideal life into the game, and for HKers, we have to put our protest movement and our protest sites inside the game." pic.twitter.com/YWyZLSgSgV
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) April 2, 2020
Wong’s response to the ban was to create a replica of the famous “Tank Man” image using Chicken McNuggets and French fries from McDonald’s. He shared the image on Twitter, challenging the Chinese government to ban the popular fast-food chain as its menu items can also be used to create images of protest.
After banned #AnimalCrossing in China, perhaps now might be the time for Beijing consider to ban #McDonald or at least not allow McDonald sale Chicken McNuggets and french fries together lol…… #TankMan pic.twitter.com/KK6Cq1djHd
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) April 11, 2020
Previously, Nintendo had been partnered with Tencent to bring Animal Crossing: New Horizons to Chinese audiences. It was even rumored that the game might join Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8, and New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe as one of the few games legally available for sale on the Chinese version of the Switch eShop.
Demand for Animal Crossing: New Horizons was reported to significantly increase sales of the Switch in China. The game featured a Chinese language option at launch, despite not being officially available in that market.
It is currently unknown whether or not China will allow New Horizons to be officially released. If they do, it is possible that some features will be removed in order to prevent the spread of “Free Hong Kong” and other political messages.