The Hanmoji

The latest evolution in how we chat online — or simply a fun way to learn Chinese


How it works

In English, we sometimes replace a word with an emoji. Take this famous Benjamin Franklin quote for instance:

An 🍎 a day keeps the doctor away.

We all understand that 🍎 stands for apple.

Now, let's apply that to the Chinese language. Much like emojis, Chinese doesn't have an alphabet and its characters are derived from pictures of what something looks like. For instance:

This is the character for wood, which comes from a picture of a tree. In Hanmoji, we would write this as 🌲.

But with Chinese, there's a catch – Chinese chararacters are already made up of re-usable modules (often called radicals). Let's take our 木 🌲 example from before and put two of them side by side:


This is the Chinese character and Hanmoji for forest.


Pop quiz!


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About the authors

Jason Li

I'm an independent designer, cartoonist and researcher. I work at the intersection of storytelling, technology and social change. I helped bring the 🦙 emoji to life, among other things, and some of my past work has appeared at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Asian Art Museum, and on the BBC. Once upon a time, I was a goodie two-shoes engineering student.

Jennifer 8. Lee

I'm cofounder of a literary studio called Plympton, which focuses on innovation and publishing. I wrote a book and produce documentaries. I work where technology x journalism with Hacks/Hackers. I also have co-led a Y Combinator Demo Day seed fund for Angel List. Once upon a time I was a reporter for The New York Times. Now I'm a vice-chair of the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee.

An Xiao Mina

I'm a technologist, researcher, and artist. I was one of the editors for Ai Weiwei: Spatial Matters and my work has made its way into museums and galleries across the US and around the world. I'm also a product director at the technology company Meedan, and in 2016–17 I was a research fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. Home is wherever the Wi-Fi is.

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