The “grass-mud horse (草泥马)” has now become the icon of online resistance to censorship. It seems that everywhere the “river crabs (河蟹)” go, the “grass-mud horses” grow in numbers.
Professor Cui Weiping (崔卫平) teaches at the Beijing Film Academy. A literary and film critic and scholar, she is also known in Chinese intellectual circles for translating Václav Havel’s works into Chinese. She writes about the “Grass-Mud Horse” phenomenon in tecn.cn, via hecaitou.net, excerpts translated by CDT:
The Song of the “Grass-Mud Horse (草泥马)” appeared quite early, in late January 2009. The children’s chorus version was put up in early February. All these things are related to a “Special Campaign to Rectify Vulgar Content on the Internet” launched at the beginning of the year. People vent their feelings about the campaign through these spoofs.
The special campaign seems a little distant from the business of intellectuals. They may have thought that it has nothing to do with them. How can they get involved with this kind of stuff? It has to be pointed out that in many respects the latest drive resembles the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign in 1983. Authorities announced that, “by February 10, the campaign had shut down 1,911 websites that seriously violated laws and regulations, and 269 pornographic blogs.” They have also named four batches of websites as being “vulgar,” including Sina, Sohu, Baidu and Tencent. Surprisingly, Douban, which has long been seen as a highbrow, “petite bourgeois” website, is also on the list and slated for harsh rectification.
I’ll refrain from introducing Douban from the very beginning. It will be too long a story and will sound like advertising for it. “Once upon a time, I wished Douban would become the intellectual front of our post-1980s generation, a place where we can express our thoughts and an integral part of our life,” a net friend wrote. I myself visited its “Nine O’clock” page from time to time, in order to get a sense of what young people are reading and how they read. So I’ve paid close attention to Douban. One of its important characteristics is the large number of groups. As to how these groups are formed, please take a look at this link. Some people have joined more than ten Douban groups. During the “special campaign,” many groups have been disbanded.
Look at these dissolved groups. How many of them can be seen as related to vulgarity?
YanHuangChunQiu 炎黄春秋 (magazine) Group, Southern Weekend (newspaper) Group, Northern Weekend Group (as well as Northern Weekend 2.0 Group and Northern Weekend 3.0 Group), Democratic Socialism Group, Cultural Revolution Group, To Mourn Zhang Zhixin Group, Yazhou Zhoukan (Asia Weekly) Group, Taiwan Politics Group, Freedom of Speech Group, Please Give Though Freedom Group, He Weifang Group, Ran Yunfei Group, Xu Youyu Group, Vaclav Havel Group, Against Narrow-minded Nationalism Group, Bullog Group……
He Weifang mentioned the incident on his Sina blog. A net friend named Shang Gaosheng left a message on He’s blog: “He Weifang Group gathered many important Chinese thinkers. They are rational, serious, incisive and sharp. They are crucial sobering agents in China’s social psyche.”
I heard Zhang Xudong Group had also been broken up. Some net friends said it had been hit by “friendly fire.” Casualties from “friendly fire” also include Worship Mao Zedong Group. The moderator of the group claimed that he had not done much propaganda work other than posting two articles by Mao Zedong – “On Contradiction” and “On Practice” – and linking to the first five volumes of “Selected Works of Mao Zedong” on the page. I wonder if the dissolution of Hate Badmouthing Communist Party Group, Harmonious Society Group and Leftist Youth Group was also because of “friendly fire.”
Some Douban groups used to boast huge memberships. He Weifang Group had 2,676 people signed on. A political philosophy group exclusively devoted to theoretical debates also had more than 2,000 members. A “Seeking Truth from Facts” Group was also disbanded. One of its ex-members wrote that he had only known “Seeking Truth from Facts” as his alma mater Renmin University’s school motto and he could never imagine the group would fall into the “vulgarity” category. What’s more, he had barely browsed the group’s page after joining it. So after its dissolution, he really regretted the fact and wanted to know what had been discussed in the group. He also discovered an eye-opening reality: They are not afraid of things like freedom and democracy. They are most scared by “Seeking Truth from Facts”!
Some disbanded groups have interesting names. They must have been products from some special periods of time. Here are some examples: Deep Onlooking Masses Group, A Small Handful of People with Ulterior Motives Group, A Small Handful 3.0 Group, A Small Handful 5.0 Group, A Small Handful 6.0 Group, A Small Tableful of People with Ulterior Motives Group, Unwitting Masses Group, Strange Uncle Very Affable Group, Fifty Cents Asylum Station Group, Foreign Ministry Spokespersons Onlooking Group, CCAV-10 Walk into Pseudo Science Group.
After the groups were closed, people created new ones. They were named We Are Waiting to Be Dissolved Group, To Be Dissolved by Douban Group, Douban Can Nip Flowers but Not Stop Spring Group, River Crab Douban Loved by Everybody Group, etc. To be sure, they have all been “river crabbed” (harmonized). What is the reason behind that? The disbanded groups constituted a great variety, but their demise shared one common reason. Let me just post it here:
How are you?
We very regretfully notify you that:
Because of themes that are considered unwelcome by Douban’s Community Guidelines, the group you signed onto, Seeking Truth From Facts, has been dissolved according to the first article in the Groups Management Rules.
As a website that operates within China, Douban strictly abides by Chinese laws and regulations and the requirements set by relevant policies. In terms of the scope of our services, we wish to exercise minimal interference with content generated by users. Out of the respect for laws and regulations, and to ensure the users’ legal safety, Douban clearly states that it does not welcome radical political and ideological content and discussions. We’ll continue to enhance our management in this regard.
We thank you for your attention to and support for Douban. We are very sorry for the inconvenience caused by the dissolution of some groups. Thanks for your understanding and cooperation with our work.
Appendix 1: Regulations on Internet Information Service
Appendix 2: Douban Community Guidelines
Appendix 3: Groups Management Rules
Here I am just taking Douban as an example and I am not blaming it for anything. What exactly Douban has done and why it has blacklisted these groups, people don’t know. But for sure Douban had no other choice and was in a difficult situation.
Douban users are called douyou, or bean oil (homonym of bean friends). They even launched a “Dress the Famous Paintings Campaign” to protest the deletion of those world-famous paintings with nudity. My dear readers, you should check it out yourself. Seeing it yourself is a hundred times better than hearing from others.
As for “Grass Mud Horse”, I applaud the one who invented such a pun. Its underlining tone is: I know you do not allow me to say certain things. See, I am completely cooperative, right? Of course I think it inappropriate to utter these obscene words. I need not to demean myself below some level because of you. Even if you force me to say those words, I won’t comply. I want to keep my decency and dignity. Even if you retreat to a barbarian level, I am going to keep my identity as a civilized person. You gonna tell me I can’t do that? So, I say “Grass Mud Horse”, not fxxx your mom. What is “Grass Mud Horse”? It always works hard in harsh conditions. See, it is from the vast grassland. I like it. I love it. This whole thing is too far away from you, out of your jurisdiction. Oh well, why are you always staring at me? Am I not perfectly fine? I am innocent. I have not been snatched away by some crooked folks. I have not been put under their control. And I am not vulgar. Why do you have to worry so much about me?
I am singing a cute children’s song – I AM A GRASS MUD HORSE! Even though it is heard by the entire world, you can’t say I’ve broken the law.
Oiwan Lam of the Global Voices also published a post: More on Grass Mud Horse:
Netizen 1.5 pointed out that “Grass Mud Horse” emerged as a “ridiculous” popular term, is actually a collective conscious of netizens for sending out the signal: the ruling elites has fallen into the trap of Tacitus in the eye of netizens. The ruling elites have the power to see without seeing, but for the netizens, they believe that “river crabs will disappear from the Ma La Desert”.
Anthropologist, Guo Yuhua (郭于华 ), also joined in the discussion and used James Scott’s “weapons of the weak” and “hidden transcript” to elaborate the meaning of “Grass Mud Horse” phenomena:
Political spoof is a helpless move, an expression of frustration. However, it is also the “weapons of the weak”, an expression of the grassroots. They are not the powerful, and are not in control of the “public transcript”. For them, open, appropriate and free expression has been blocked, and they can only use the “weapon of the weak” to create “hidden transcript”. We shouldn’t underestimate this kind of “Grass Mud Horse” expression, as it is a sign of free choice: either to become a silent and tamed goat or to become a “brave and stubborn” “Grass Mud Horse”.
We shouldn’t be pessimistic about this kind of expression. Scott’s research told us that, the intersection of public and hidden transcript is a contesting space between the dominated and the subordinated. It is not an unmovable wall. Through the hidden transcript, the subordinated class can create a social space, which in itself is an achievement. The “Grass Mud Horse”, which are deprived of expression space, could not expect the space to be given, it is only through struggle that they can preserve the space, the process is most important.
Lastly I want to point out that we shouldn’t be offended by “Grass Mud Horse” vulgar and cheap expression, nor should we question elegant intellectuals like Cui Weiping’s decision to join in the political spoof by using the term. The logic and message is very clear here: If the government is not messing up, the people won’t do the same; if the upper rank elites don’t Zhe-teng (torment), the subordinated won’t do the same; if the “river crabs” are not vulgar, the “Grass Mud Horse” won’t be vulgar.
Writer Chen Xingzhi (陈行之) also joined this discussion here:
We have reason to believe that the creation of the grass-mud horse (草泥马) is a serious parody. It is more serious than any other political and social topics.
If our politicians have any quality, they should see something terrifying within this phenomenon.
The following Youtube video is an animated version of the Song of the Grass-Mud Horse: