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.

The grass-mud horse, whose name sounds nearly the same in Mandarin as “fuck your mother” (肏你妈 cào nǐ mā), was created to skirt government censorship of vulgar content. 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. As one Chinese blogger explains, “‘Grass-Mud Horse’ represents information and opinions that cannot be accepted by the mainstream discourse, and ‘The Song of the Grass Mud Horse’ has become a metaphor of the power struggle over Internet expression.”

A grass-mud horse in place of “Tank Man,” who stood before the tanks as they rolled into Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
Paying respects to a snow grass-mud horse.
New character combining components of “grass,” “mud,” and “horse.”
Grass-mud horse army.

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