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2021-03-01 10:32:50

An iconic emoji on China’s most widely used social network has given up smoking.

In a post Sunday on microblogging platform Weibo, social app WeChat’s parent company Tencent included before-and-after screenshots from the app’s emoji library, circling the “soldier face” emoji decked out in its army-green helmet. It’s not hard to spot the difference: In the current version, the helmeted head is missing its trademark cigar.

A single line of text included with the post reads, “Recently… quit smoking.”

Left: WeChat’s previous “soldier face” emoji, with its trademark cigar. | Right: The platform’s new “soldier face” emoji, after he adopted healthier habits. From Weibo

Left: WeChat’s previous “soldier face” emoji, with its trademark cigar. | Right: The platform’s new “soldier face” emoji, after he adopted healthier habits. From Weibo

WeChat has been reticent to say more about what prompted the change, which came with the Version 8.0.0 update earlier this year and has since gone largely unnoticed. The platform declined an interview request Monday, and a source within the company told Sixth Tone that staff had been asked not to discuss the matter with the media.

WeChat has been under pressure to reconsider its tobacco-related messaging for years. According to an article Sunday by state-run newspaper Beijing Daily, anti-smoking campaigners in Beijing first reported “smoking emojis” on social platforms like WeChat, Weibo, and QQ to the city’s tobacco control association in 2017. The association, in turn, lobbied the city’s cyberspace authorities to resolve the matter.

Both QQ — another Tencent-owned messaging app — and Weibo removed their tobacco-using emojis in late 2017, but WeChat’s smoking soldier persisted, seemingly undeterred. Zhang Jianzhong, president of the Beijing Tobacco Control Association, told Beijing Daily his organization even personally contacted Tencent’s CEO, Ma Huateng — also known as Pony Ma — to raise awareness about the message the symbol was sending.

“Tencent’s decision has come a little late, but given that it’s such a ubiquitous social platform, it’s good that it has taken the lead as a no-smoking role model,” Zhang was quoted as saying. “Enterprises, and especially well-known ones, should shoulder the responsibility and do their part to create a smoke-free China.”

Zhang added that he hoped young people would agree that the non-smoking soldier is “much cooler” than his predecessor.

The cigarless soldier isn’t the only WeChat emoji to attract attention after the Version 8.0.0 update. The app’s “bloody meat cleaver” emoji is now a bloodless meat cleaver, and several new emojis, including the classic smiley face, as well as the “fireworks” and “bomb” symbols, now include accompanying animations.

The emoji makeovers weren’t welcomed by all users. In late January, a group of artists staged a small protest outside WeChat’s corporate headquarters in the southern megacity of Guangzhou, claiming the app’s users should have been consulted about the redesigned symbols, which they felt had missed the mark. Among the symbols singled out by the group were the broken heart, “praying hands,” and poop emojis.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A screenshot of WeChat’s emoji library shows that the “smoking soldier” has lost his cigar. From Weibo)