表情包 (biǎoqíng bāo)
Roughly translated to “expression package,” this refers to stickers, emojis, and GIFs popularly used in online conversations to express a variety of emotions. They usually come in downloadable themed sets, hence “package.” With the growth of Chinese social media sites, netizens started using photos or images to represent emotions in lieu of words. Over time, this evolved into cartoonish or comedic emoticons. Social media sites took note of this and started monetizing emoticons, offering packages of themed sets. Many free expression packages are also available, and independent artists often design and upload expression packages for the public to use and enjoy. An extremely popular biǎoqíng bāo gallery is “Wechat Gallery,” where thousands of biaoqing bao are available to download, with more being added every day.
More often than not, biǎoqíng bāo will include an image or illustration with accompanying text. A unique aspect of Chinese biaoqing bao is that this text may be a few characters or an entire sentence long, allowing the user to express a variety of emotions. The versatility and uniqueness of biǎoqíng bāo invited the phenomenon of dóu tú (斗图). Dou tu began as early as 2015 and roughly translates to “fighting with stickers.” In dóu tú, individuals will share a variety of biǎoqíng bāo with each other in a back-and-forth fashion, showcasing interesting or funny biǎoqíng bāo and boasting their collection of stickers. Dóu tú can take place in public forums as well as private conversations, leading to increased community interaction and building a culture around biǎoqíng bāo.
One of the earliest and most popular biǎoqíng bāo is Tuzuki, an illustrated rabbit character created by Momo Wang in 2006. It was originally used exclusively on Wang’s personal blog, but became so popular that it spread to several platforms, including Wechat, QQ, Kakaotalk, and Facebook. Tuzuki was so popular that it became used in various real-world promotions and collaborations, and is a significant example of how the popularity of biǎoqíng bāo can transcend online spaces.
In contemporary times, biǎoqíng bāo are integral aspects of online communication. In some cases, they can even represent identity, as the types of biǎoqíng bāo sent contributes to an online persona. For example, fandom-related biǎoqíng bāo can represent personal interests. Current biǎoqíng bāo may include celebrity faces, texts with regional slang, or company mascots, all allowing online users to curate their collections and use biǎoqíng bāo that best represents them. The fast rate at which biǎoqíng bāo are produced also allows them to be signifiers of current popular and hot topics on Chinese social media, solidifying their role as essential parts of modern Chinese pop culture.
de Seta, Gabriele. (2018). Biaoqing: The circulation of emoticons, emoji, stickers, and custom images on Chinese digital media platforms. First Monday. 23. 10.5210/fm.v23i9.9391.
Liang, Yixin (2017) If One Thing Can Be Resolved With Biaoqing Bao, Then Don’t Use Words!”: The Genealogy of Biaoqing Bao in the Chinese Internet Culture. Master’s Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)