ChinaFile Video: Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon (Updated)

ChinaFile Video: Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon (Updated)

On ChilaFile, CDT’s Translation Coordinator Anne Henochowicz discusses our first e-book, Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon: Classic Netizen Language, which includes a selection of “classic” terms which have endured beyond the events which generated them. The Lexicon is translated by Liz Carter and an anonymous contributor, and edited by Henochowicz. It can be downloaded for Kindle via Amazon, and is available from the iTunes Bookstore, Google Play, and as a PDF, via CDT:

Read also the full China Digital Times Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon.

Update: In The National, Jamie Kenny writes about the ways that Chinese Internet users get around censorship by creating their own language:

It’s a system that is both comprehensive and constantly updated. A recent study by Harvard University described it as the biggest attempt to suppress human communication ever undertaken in human history. Think of a protean struggle between the desire of the largest group of internet users on Earth to read and write as they please and the desire of a Leninist power vertical with the equivalent population of Germany to channel the conversation in ways helpful or harmless to itself.

In partial response, the Sinosphere has taken to the considerable potential of the Chinese language for homonymy, double entendres and sarcasm, as detailed entertainingly in the Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon, a collective product of the University of Berkeley’s China Digital Times website.

The Grass-Mud Horse him or herself is an excellent example of how the genre works. Like many authoritarian regimes, the Communist Party of China partly justifies censorship under the not entirely artificial pretext of banning pornography. The phrase “cao ni ma” is a homonym of the Chinese characters for “brace yourselves, mother[expletive]”. In self-defining in this way, internet users mock the official characterisation of themselves as pornography addicts and generally unclean influences, while simultaneously returning the compliment, since the Communist Party stylises itself as the “mother of the people”. A similar point is made by the phrase Mahler Gobi, an even franker version of the above. Likewise, “Fertile Grass” bears a strong resemblance to the Mandarin for “[expletive] me”, and expresses the exasperation one feels at having one’s blog post deleted, such “fertile grass” being a staple of many Chinese internet users’ diet. The River Crab, meanwhile is a homonym for “harmony” and so the enemy of the average internet user.

Some phrases in the GMH lexicon are stacked with intricate layers of meaning.


Subscribe to CDT


Browsers Unbounded by Lantern

Now, you can combat internet censorship in a new way: by toggling the switch below while browsing China Digital Times, you can provide a secure "bridge" for people who want to freely access information. This open-source project is powered by Lantern, know more about this project.

Google Ads 1

Giving Assistant

Google Ads 2

Anti-censorship Tools

Life Without Walls

Click on the image to download Firefly for circumvention

Open popup

Welcome back!

CDT is a non-profit media site, and we need your support. Your contribution will help us provide more translations, breaking news, and other content you love.