There are two text representations for non-ASCII characters in Emacs strings: multibyte and unibyte (see Text Representations). Roughly speaking, unibyte strings store raw bytes, while multibyte strings store human-readable text. Each character in a unibyte string is a byte, i.e., its value is between 0 and 255. By contrast, each character in a multibyte string may have a value between 0 to 4194303 (see Character Type). In both cases, characters above 127 are non-ASCII.
You can include a non-ASCII character in a string constant by writing it literally. If the string constant is read from a multibyte source, such as a multibyte buffer or string, or a file that would be visited as multibyte, then Emacs reads each non-ASCII character as a multibyte character and automatically makes the string a multibyte string. If the string constant is read from a unibyte source, then Emacs reads the non-ASCII character as unibyte, and makes the string unibyte.
Instead of writing a character literally into a multibyte string, you can write it as its character code using an escape sequence. See General Escape Syntax, for details about escape sequences.
If you use any Unicode-style escape sequence ‘\uNNNN’ or ‘\U00NNNNNN’ in a string constant (even for an ASCII character), Emacs automatically assumes that it is multibyte.
You can also use hexadecimal escape sequences (‘\xn’) and octal escape sequences (‘\n’) in string constants. But beware: If a string constant contains hexadecimal or octal escape sequences, and these escape sequences all specify unibyte characters (i.e., less than 256), and there are no other literal non-ASCII characters or Unicode-style escape sequences in the string, then Emacs automatically assumes that it is a unibyte string. That is to say, it assumes that all non-ASCII characters occurring in the string are 8-bit raw bytes.
In hexadecimal and octal escape sequences, the escaped character code may contain a variable number of digits, so the first subsequent character which is not a valid hexadecimal or octal digit terminates the escape sequence. If the next character in a string could be interpreted as a hexadecimal or octal digit, write ‘\ ’ (backslash and space) to terminate the escape sequence. For example, ‘\xe0\ ’ represents one character, ‘a’ with grave accent. ‘\ ’ in a string constant is just like backslash-newline; it does not contribute any character to the string, but it does terminate any preceding hex escape.