China Insists It Is Happy After Use of Smiley Emojis Revealed to Show Contempt

An angry backlash has erupted after claims that Chinese Internet users attach secret meanings to emojis in order to disguise their contempt of others.

As seen in an article published Wednesday, Quartz said Chinese netizens don't use emojis according to their traditionally-ascribed meanings. Instead, the Chinese Internet has developed a "subversive" system in which "a smiling face can actually convey contempt," a result after Chinese Internet users have become accustomed to circumventing online censorship protocols.

Highlighting the break from tradition is the Chinese use of emojis otherwise associated with positive emotions. As a way to despise others, Chinese netizens employ emojis in their online comments like the smiling face with waving hand (like this*bye*), the smiling moon face, and the "doge" (all shown below). 

Reaction against the article has been swift as Chinese netizens have universally condemned Quartz. After the Global Times translated the Quartz article into Chinese, the Chinese Internet unanimously refuted the claims as false with some even questioning the qualifications of the author. 

One netizen wrote, "How can an outsider know more than someone who is involved? Ridiculous! Don't force your assumptions upon others, that's called mind rape," while another referred to the author by saying, "This type of person is not a good person."

The Global Times report doesn't credit the author, Echo Huang, a reporter who lives and studied in Hong Kong and is fluent in both Cantonese and Mandarin. Instead, the Quartz article is attributed to "the American media," a point that is repeatedly brought up by netizens in their angry comments. 

Upset that a US-based news outlet made a generalization about them, Chinese netizens reacted by making sweeping generalizations about the USA.

One Chinese netizen wrote, "Pervert Americans, Chinese don't have such despicable thoughts as you may believe," while another said, "Americans really are so perverted to take something like this to be completely real." Other comments that insult the USA as a whole include, "The understanding of Americans is so petty, and don't have the proper way of thinking," and "This is how Americans act: they are smiling hypocrites with nefarious intentions."

The anger of Chinese netizens is emphasized by the fact that the Quartz article only cites one source regarding the subversive meaning of emojis – a comment from Zhihu, the Chinese equivalent of Quora. However, it turns out this comment about why all smiling faces contain subversive intentions, but just one. That's because this comment is an answer to the question: "Why do I get the feeling that WeChat's smiling face emoji isn't the least bit friendly?"

As much as a smiling face conveys happiness, the feeling of contempt comes from the way this particular emoji looks down upon you. As another Zhihu user pointed out, the WeChat smile emoji (shown above) "looks downwards at the same time as smiling, thereby giving off a sense of malicious intent."

With all that cleared up, Chinese netizens have concluded that there's nothing more to consider. One commenter went so far as to say, "A smiling face is just a smiling face, and has no other reason."

Is it, though?

At this point, we'd be remiss not to mention that emojis are just symbols, ones that derive their meaning from the context they are used in. To put it another way: A smiling face can represent happiness, but it doesn't have to represent everyone's happiness.

We'd thought we take a quick spin around the Chinese internet to see how the smiling face emoji is used by Chinese netizens. Although we don't want to harm the feelings of millions of Chinese, we have to say according to the way the smiling face emoji is used in China, there's a lot more going on behind that smile.

So, if you can, see if you aren't reminded of contempt when considering these following examples, each one taken fresh off the Chinese internet.

The following comment was made in response to news about protests that have broken out in Paris, France following the death of a Chinese national at the hands of French police. In spite of the contentious subject matter, it ends happily with a smiling face:

Speaking truthfully, countless Chinese have gone abroad just to be bullied. What's wrong with staying in China? You'd rather go abroad and get beaten up, but not stay in China? Smile

Also inspired by the Paris killing, the following Weibo post doesn't have anything nice to say to its French targets, but it does it with a smiling face at the end:

To all you degenerates who have insulted us Chinese at home and abroad Chinese, watch this video and see just who in fact are the ungrateful beasts! Smile

In a news story about expat public safety in China, the following comment reacts by saying that there are too many foreigners in the country. The comment complains "laowai" abuse the hospitality shown to them by treating single Chinese women as "easy dates" and concludes with the following along with a smiling face:

He simply isn't aware that he is in our Chinese territory. As such, you should adjust your self-worth accordingly. Smile

The meaning of emojis can vary throughout the world; where some people see two hands clasped in prayer, others see two people performing a high-five. But according to the majority of Chinese netizens, and despite its use seen in the previous examples and many more, the smiling face emoji is not used to convey contempt, but happiness.

Their own, that is. Smile

More stories from this author here.

Twitter: @Sinopath

Images: Read Unwritten, Pinterest, Nido, Hot Emoji, Wharton University of Pennsylvania, Wall Street Journal


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