The meaning of a picture can be extracted rapidly, but the form-to-meaning relationship is less obvious for printed words. In contrast to English words that follow grapheme-to-phoneme correspondence rule, the iconic nature of Chinese words might predispose them to activate their semantic representations more directly from their orthographies. By using the paradigm of repetition blindness (RB) that taps into the early level of word processing, we examined whether Chinese words activate their semantic representations as directly as pictures do. RB refers to the failure to detect the second occurrence of an item when it is presented twice in temporal proximity. Previous studies showed RB for semantically related pictures, suggesting that pictures activate their semantic representations directly from their shapes and thus two semantically related pictures are represented as repeated. However, this does not apply to English words since no RB was found for English synonyms. In this study, we replicated the semantic RB effect for pictures, and further showed the absence of semantic RB for Chinese synonyms. Based on our findings, it is suggested that Chinese words are processed like English words, which do not activate their semantic representations as directly as pictures do.