Biaoqing: The circulation of emoticons, emoji, stickers, and custom images on Chinese digital media platforms
The Mandarin Chinese term biaoqing, or ‘expression’, categorizes genres of visual content ranging from emoticons and emoji to stickers and custom images. This article is grounded on ethnographic research and approaches biaoqing in terms of their circulation across Chinese digital media platforms. By formulating a comprehensive typology of biaoqing genres, I foreground the situated socio-technical specificities of their circulation: the creative play with typographical compositions, the affective repurposing of graphical emoticons, the platformed monetization of proprietary stickers, and the user-driven proliferation of custom images. Drawing on this typology, I argue for the need to recognize the circulation of biaoqing as an emergent and malleable category of semiotic resources profoundly shaped by two decades of development of the Internet in China.