Semiotic Analysis


A semiotics analysis is the decoding of a text or an image to get its meaning. The Denotation refers to the literal meaning of something, the connotation is the idea or the feeling behind something. For example, if someone said “you are a dog”, the denotation would be that the person is a literal canine, while the connotation may be (s)he is unattractive, as the connotation is the feeling inferred from it. I have chosen an image from the rape of Nanking  which took place in China in 1937 (, 2009). It symbolises a broken China in that era, as multitudes were killed and many raped for no logical reason: the war left a huge void that has yet to be filled.

In this image, a child that appears to be about a year old is sitting on the ground. It can be assumed that it is a year old because it is very small. The child has its mouth open, which suggests that it is crying. This can also be seen from its facial expression and body language, as it appears to be squinting, which is natural when a person is crying. As well, its body language suggests that it is crying, because it has its fist clenched. The denotation of this is that it is a clenched fist, while the connotation is that the child is frustrated.

As there is a lot of debris and rubble surrounding the child,  the connotation is that a war has taken place. This can be assumed as the debris is scattered all over the ground. As well, what appears to be a water tower is leaning in front as though it is midway falling over. In addition, the image is hazy and unclear in the background, which suggests that there is smoke in the air, further justifying the belief that a war has taken place.

Due to the fact that the child is alone in this photo, there is a sense of grief and sadness brought about by this, as it appears to be frightened and confused. Since there is no one around the child, the connotation is that no one cares for the child, or that everyone around the child is dead. This may not be evident as there are no bodies around the child, however with what appears to be blood on its shoulder and torn clothes, the connotation is that there has been a war and people have died.

In the image, although it is not clear whether it is blood on the shoulder because the image is not in colour, the damage around the child suggests that there has been an explosion or a war, leaving the child all alone. In addition, the child appears to be injured, with small scabs on its leg and arm, further justifying the belief that a bombing or a war took place.

The way in which the photographer has taken this photo further adds to the feelings of loneliness and death. Firstly, he has made it very clear that the child is the only person in this photo by making the background appear to be massive and the child tiny. This also gives the connotation that the child is all alone in this massive world.

Secondly, the child is sitting on a railway. The connotation of this is that the child is being suicidal and wants to end its life. Although the child is too young to understand the concept of suicide or to be able to willingly kill itself, the fact that it is sitting on the railway suggests that it is fed up with life and has given up hope of living. This may be because it has seen something horrendous such as its family being slaughtered. This brings an overwhelming sense of despair and a foreshadowing of something horrible to come, as no person casually sits on a railway.

Thirdly, the feeling of death is brought about by all the debris and collapsed buildings. The fallen structures and the damaged environment with all the smoke and rubble symbolise a broken city.

For this picture, the photographer has chosen a black and white colour. This brings a sense of emptiness and grief, as the colours black and white are usually associated with a feeling of emptiness and sadness. The use of the colours also creates a strong sense of realism, as it gives the impression that human begins are despicable beings to be able to leave a child all alone in what appears to be a dangerous environment.


Bibliography (2009) ‘Nanjing massacre – facts & summary’,, .




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