Grass-Mud Horse Word of the Week

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a weekly featured word from China Digital Space’s Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon, a glossary of terms created by Chinese netizens and frequently encountered in online political discussions. These are the words of China’s online “resistance discourse,” used to mock and subvert the official language around censorship and political correctness.

If you are interested in participating in this project by submitting and/or translating terms, please contact the CDT editors at CDT [at] chinadigitaltimes [dot] net.

To launch the project, we will start with the key term that inspired our lexicon:

草泥马 (cǎonímǎ): grass-mud horse

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Ai Weiwei sings the grass-mud horse song in November 2011.

Grass-mud horse, which sounds nearly the same in Chinese as “f*** your mother” (cào nǐ mā), was created as a way to get around and poke fun at government censorship of vulgar content. The idea caught fire after netizens made a video depicting the grass-mud horse at war with and eventually 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 creating catchy songs and fake nature documentaries on YouTube and other video sharing sites.

The phrase is especially meaningful on a political level because the Communist Party is often described as “the mother” of the people–”f*** your mother” can also suggest “f*** the Party.” The grass-mud horse is one of many mythical creatures created by netizens in response to increasingly strict censorship measures.

The term has since developed an additional meaning: a “grass-mud horse” is someone who is web-savvy and critical of government attempts at censorship. As one Chinese blogger explained, “‘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.”