China’s candle emoji ban misses the mark

By Oliver Smith 14 July 2017

Don't they realise emoji are fluid?

If emoji is a language, then its letters are becoming politicised.

We’ve seen this before. The introduction of a rifle emoji was ignored by Apple and Google, and the gun emoji was subsequently downgraded to a water pistol.

Now the saga has taken another turn, as China’s army of censors are banning the use of the candle emoji on social media.

The move comes after it was appropriated by citizens commemorating the death of famed dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo.

A political symbol 🕯

The history of language is littered with words deemed illegal, inappropriate or simply insensitive.

Not just phrases or sentences, but individual words that have been deemed beyond acceptance.

To this day in Germany there are a number of words with Nazi connotations that remain illegal and punishable by a fine if used.

With emoji, the fastest growing language in the world, we’re now seeing individual pictograph ‘letters’ go the same way.

What happens when the letters of a language become so infused with meaning, that they themselves become a political symbol?

It’s an interesting thought.

Our fluid language

What we do know is that the beautiful uniqueness of emoji as a language is that its meanings are so fluid.

An aubergine from your mum while discussing dinner takes on a different meaning entirely when received from your partner.

Likewise the emoji we send today may hold vastly different connotations years, months or just days in the future.

Around the world the candle emoji is used with countless ‘legit’ meanings – as a symbol of peace, relaxation, religion or remembrance.

Ultimately today China’s censors may have banned the candle, but tomorrow that same emoji may hold no meaning, or a different meaning entirely.

Tomorrow’s symbol of defiance could be ✌️ or 🎤. Or yes, the aubergine.