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wechat emojis
Besides the hundred-or-so official emojis that WeChat offers, it also allows users to exchange and collect stickers and gifs.
THE FULL RANGE

WeChat’s exclusive emojis express emotions Western apps cannot

Zara Zhang
By Zara Zhang

Analyst at GGV Capital

It is very difficult to talk to Chinese people without using emojis. Whenever a Chinese friend Facebook messages me, I feel compelled to reply with WeChat because there are messages and nuances that can only be expressed with emojis that only exist on WeChat.

The difference between emojis on Chinese and Western apps can shed light on some interesting cultural disparities. I have noticed that Chinese messaging apps tend to have a lot more emojis for expressing deference and embarrassment (with elements like blushing)—traditional Chinese culture prizes humility and indirectness. You can never ask someone a favor without profusely expressing how bad you feel; you can never ask for someone’s time without showing that you think you are hardly worthy of their time.

Below are some emojis that I use most frequently while communicating on WeChat, but do not really have equivalents on Western messengers like Facebook Messenger and iMessage.

Official Name: Shy

Actual Meaning: 

  • I’m better than you, but I want you to know that I’m not just better but also humble
  • I have a favor to ask of you, but I don’t want to appear blunt

Function:

  • Humble brag
  • Downplay one’s achievements
  • Ask for a favor

Example:

Official name: Blush

Actual meaning:

  • I have a favor to ask of you, but I don’t want to come across as an asshole
  • Damn it. Are you sure you can’t do anything more about it?
  • I’d love to help you, but I really can’t

Function:

  • There’s a Chinese phrase called mai meng, which literally translates into “selling cuteness” (in order to achieve your goal). This is the quintessential mai meng emoji: great for asking favors from someone you are familiar with
  • Express helplessness/deep unhappiness/disappointment

Example:

Official Name: Smile

Actual Meaning: 

  • I don’t know you that well and I don’t want to come across as over friendly, but I want to create a friendly atmosphere
  • I’m asking you a favor and it would be inappropriate for me to use any of the other favor emojis because they are way too cute and you are more senior/older than me

Function:

  • To maintain a professional yet friendly relationship
  • To tell someone something very serious without coming across as mean

*Note: DO NOT use this with friends (unless you are over 40), otherwise your friend will think you are trying to end the friendship by treating them like a stranger. 

Example:

Official Name: Trick

Actual Meaning:

  • Look at you!!!
  • I have an idea that I think we’ll both like

Function:

  • Tease someone
  • Emphasize the novelty of your idea

Example 1:

Example 2:

Official Name: Fight

Actual Meaning:

  • I respect you a lot and I’m ready to learn from you
  • Sorry for troubling you
  • Thank you so much

(This is a salute commonly used in Chinese kung fu before people fight each other. It is a mutual show of respect for each other’s skills and abilities.)

Function:

  • For greeting, when you first meet someone who is more senior or older
  • When you are asking a favor of someone who you respect

Example:

Official Name: Chuckle

Actual Meaning: 

  • This is not really funny, but I’m laughing to lighten the situation
  • I’m giving you advice, but I don’t want to sound rude
  • I’m going to ask a favor of you

Function:

  • Humble brag/express smugness
  • To soften the tone when you’re giving someone suggestions

Example 1:

Example 2:

Official Name: Scowl

Actual Meaning: 

  • What the hell?!
  • Are you serious? I can’t believe this happened

Function:

  • Express surprised disappointment/outrage

Example:

Official Name: Grimace

Actual Meaning: 

  • I’d love to help you, but I really can’t
  • I can’t believe things turned out this way, but here’s what happened
  • This is really awkward

Function:

  • Breaking bad news
  • Asking for a difficult favor
  • Express embarrassment or regret

Example:

This post originally appeared on Zara’s blog. Zara co-hosts a biweekly podcast on tech in China called 996 By GGV Capital, and co-authors an email newsletter on the same subject. This article is part of Quartz Ideas, our home for bold arguments and big thinkers.