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.

WeChat emojis
The WeChat emoji keyboard. Besides the hundred-or-so official emojis that WeChat offers, it also allows users to exchange and collect stickers and gifs.

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.


1. Shy

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:

Shy example


2. Blush

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:

Blush example


3.Smile

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. For friends, use Cuteor Laughinstead.

Example:

Smile example


4. Trick

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:

Trick example 1

Example 2:

Trick example 2


5. Fight

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

* Note: 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 that you respect

Example:

Fight example


6. Chuckle

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:

Chuckle example 1

Example 2:

Chuckle example 2


7. Scowl

Official Name: Scowl

Actual Meaning: 

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

Function:

  • Express surprised disappointment/outrage

Example:

Scowl example


8. Grimace

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:

Grimace example

I’ve written more about WeChat here.

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3 thoughts on “A Guide to Using WeChat Emojis

  1. Nice explanation. I do like the WeChat emoji designs more than any other format. But on WeChat I find myself using stickers much more often than emojis and that’s something not even available on most other platforms. Most people i know tend to buy the sets available but I’m also a fan of WeChat’s ability to upload your own. My custom set of stickers is very big and I tend to use them even more than the sticker sets I download.

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