In the case of Chinese, the pictographic properties are often retained in the construction. For example, a common radical is that of the roof, which appears at the top of this character: 安 an1 meaning peace The perception (correctly or incorrectly) that the meaning of the word is to some degree derived from its parts affects the consumption of the language in a way that differs substantially from other languages with the roman alphabet. In the particular example, all sorts of people talk about how "peace" is a woman under a roof.
I think the point is that there is nothing phonetic about an emoticon or similar items. Doesn't mean you can not "read" it. Similarly, consider the reading of a map. If you are like I am, you convert the map you are looking at into the words you'd use to describe the path you want to take. Does not mean the map is at all based on those words.