China Digital Space

Grass-mud horse

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草泥马 (cǎonímǎ): grass-mud horse

Originally conceived as a zebra, the grass-mud horse is now an alpaca. (shanti-phula.net)
A grass-mud horse in place of “Tank Man,” who stood before the tanks as they rolled into Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. (smurfswillbefree.wordpress.com)
Grass-mud horse stickers on WeChat. (screenshot)

De facto mascot of Chinese netizens fighting for free expression, symbolizing defiance of Internet censorship. The grass-mud horse, whose name sounds nearly the same as “fuck your mother” (肏你妈 cào nǐ mā), was originally created to skirt government censorship of vulgar content. Film scholar Cui Weiping draws a direct connection between the launch of the “Special Campaign to Rectify Vulgar Content on the Internet” in early 2009 and the appearance of the Song of the Grass-Mud Horse in February of that year. The idea caught fire after netizens made a video depicting the grass-mud horse defeating the river crab (河蟹 héxiè), a homonym for the propaganda catchword “harmony” (和谐 héxié). Netizens continually expanded the lore of the grass-mud horse by composing catchy songs, photo albums of its natural habitat, and fake nature documentaries.

The Communist Party is often described as “the mother” of the people, so “fuck your mother” also suggests “fuck the Party.” The grass-mud horse is one of many mythical creatures invented by netizens in response to increasingly strict censorship measures.

A grass-mud horse is now someone who is web-savvy and critical of government attempts at censorship.

See also crazy grass-mud horse and crouching grass-mud horse.

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