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[[File:Caonima.jpg|thumb|"I'm a grass-mud horse."]]
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[[File:Caonima.jpg|thumb|''“I'm a grass-mud horse.”'']]
  
 
'''Translating the Resistance Discourse of Chinese Netizens'''
 
'''Translating the Resistance Discourse of Chinese Netizens'''
  
[http://chinadigitaltimes.net/author/xiao-qiang/ Xiao Qiang]
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[http://www.ischool.berkeley.edu/people/faculty/qiangxiao Xiao Qiang]
 
__NOTOC__
 
__NOTOC__
  
==About the project==
+
==About the Project==
  
China Digital Times has launched a participatory Web 2.0 initiative we are calling “[[Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon]],” an online glossary of translations of terms created by Chinese netizens and frequently encountered in online political discussions.
+
The [[Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon]] is an online glossary of terms created by Chinese netizens and frequently encountered in online political discussions.
  
This project is part of our effort to contribute to a deeper understanding of the Internet’s cultural, social, and political impact by moving beyond anecdotal evidence and systematically documenting and interpreting political discourse created by Chinese netizens. By creating this lexicon, we hope to map out the dynamics of [http://jmsc.hku.hk/blogs/circ/files/2008/06/xiao_qiang.pdf “domination and resistance”] in Chinese communication and information networks. The aim is to vividly illustrate the increasingly dynamic and [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2011/03/video-dragon’s-take-on-the-two-sessions-translated/ sometimes surprising presence] of an alternative political discourse: images, frames, metaphors and narratives that have been generated from [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_meme Internet memes]. This “resistance discourse” steadily [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/10/answering-those-questions-on-the-southern-weekend/ undermines the values and ideology] that reproduce compliance with the [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/04/where-is-the-country-of-grass-mud-horses/ Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian regime], and, as such, force an [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/01/blogger-ten-emotional-years-with-the-internet/ opening for free expression and civil society] in China.  
+
This project is part of our effort to contribute to a deeper understanding of the Internet’s cultural, social, and political impact by moving beyond anecdotal evidence and systematically documenting and interpreting political discourse created by Chinese netizens. By creating this lexicon, we hope to map out the dynamics of [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/sensitive-words-series/ censorship], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/directives-from-the-ministry-of-truth/ domination] and [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/netizen-voices/ resistance]in Chinese communication and information networks. The aim is to vividly illustrate the increasingly dynamic and sometimes surprising presence of an [http://www.chinafile.com/china-tipping-point alternative political discourse]: images, frames, metaphors, and narratives that have been generated from [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_meme Internet memes] and [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/chinese/2012/12/【动态时间轴】2012大事记/ events]. This emerging “resistance discourse” steadily undermines the values and ideology that reproduce compliance with the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian regime, and, as such, force an [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/01/blogger-ten-emotional-years-with-the-internet/ opening for free expression and civil society] in China.  
  
We hope this project will contribute to the ongoing debate: Is the Internet acting as a “safety valve” to prolong the life of the Chinese authoritarian regime; or are new forms of networked communication enhancing [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/01/persian-xiaozhao-i-signed-my-name-after-a-good-cry/ opportunities for social change] and helping to move China toward the [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/03/persian-xiaozhao-the-grey-crowd-that-suddenly-became-interested-in-democracy/ “threshold” for political transformation]?
+
Is the Internet acting as a “safety valve” to prolong the life of the Chinese authoritarian regime, or are new forms of networked communication enhancing opportunities for social change and helping to move China toward the [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/03/persian-xiaozhao-the-grey-crowd-that-suddenly-became-interested-in-democracy/ “threshold” for political transformation]? We hope this project will contribute valuable information to this debate.
  
 
==Origins of the Grass-Mud Horse==
 
==Origins of the Grass-Mud Horse==
  
In early 2009, a creature named the “Grass-Mud Horse” appeared in an [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKx1aenJK08&feature=player_embedded online video] which became an [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/%202009/02/music-video-the-song-%20of-the-grass-dirt-horse/ immediate viral hit]. The term [[grass-mud horse]], which sounds nearly the same in Chinese as “f**k your mother” (cào nǐ mā), was originally created as a way to get around, and also poke fun at, government censorship of vulgar content. After netizens created an online video depicting the grass-mud horse at war with and eventually defeating the [[river crab]], a homonym for [[harmonious|harmony]], a propaganda catchword, the idea caught fire instantly, [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/03/cui-weiping-崔卫平-i-am-a-grass-mud-horse/ completely transforming] the symbolic meaning of this term. Within weeks, the grass-mud horse became the [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/03/michael-wines-a-dirty-pun-tweaks-china’s-online-censors/ de facto mascot of Chinese netizens fighting for free expression], inspiring [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/04/tang-poem-mockery-grass-mud-horse-running-on-the-ma-le-desert/ poetry], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/03/grass-mud-horse-netizens-react-to-censors-with-photo/ photos, videos], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/08/slideshow-brush-and-ink-paintings-of-grass-mud-horses/ artwork], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/05/art-from-the-peoples-republic-of-the-grass-mud-horse/ lines of clothing], and [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/03/reform-oriented-national-print-media-join-netizens-battle-against-censorship/ more]. As one Chinese blogger explained, “The grass-mud horse represents information and opinions that cannot be accepted by the mainstream discourse, and the ‘[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vp5eVClV334&feature=related Song of the Grass-Mud Horse]’ has become a metaphor of the power struggle over Internet expression.”
+
In early 2009, a creature called the [[grass-mud horse]] appeared in an [http://youtu.be/wKx1aenJK08 online music video] which became an [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/%202009/02/music-video-the-song-%20of-the-grass-dirt-horse/ immediate viral hit]. “Grass-mud horse” (cǎonímǎ 草泥马), which sounds nearly the same in Mandarin as “fuck your mother” (cào nǐ mā 肏你妈), was originally coined to get around, and also poke fun at, government censorship of vulgar content. The idea caught fire instantly, completely transforming its symbolic meaning. Within weeks, the grass-mud horse became the [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/03/michael-wines-a-dirty-pun-tweaks-china’s-online-censors/ de facto mascot of Chinese netizens fighting for free expression], inspiring [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/04/tang-poem-mockery-grass-mud-horse-running-on-the-ma-le-desert/ poetry], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/03/grass-mud-horse-netizens-react-to-censors-with-photo/ photos, videos], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/08/slideshow-brush-and-ink-paintings-of-grass-mud-horses/ artwork], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/05/art-from-the-peoples-republic-of-the-grass-mud-horse/ clothing], and [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/03/reform-oriented-national-print-media-join-netizens-battle-against-censorship/ more]. As one Chinese blogger explained, “The grass-mud horse represents information and opinions that cannot be accepted by the mainstream discourse, and the ‘[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vp5eVClV334&feature=related Song of the Grass-Mud Horse]’ has become a metaphor of the power struggle over Internet expression.”
  
The grass-mud horse was particularly suited to the contested space of the Chinese Internet. The government’s [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/ministry-of-truth/ pervasive and intrusive censorship system] has generated equally [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/01/video-“网瘾战争-war-of-internet-addiction”/ massive resentment] among Chinese netizens. As a result, [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/10/chinese-twitterers-mr-hu-jintao-tear-down-the-great-firewall/ new forms of social resistance] and [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/04/han-han-let-the-sunshine-in/ demands for greater freedom of information and expression] are often expressed in [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2007/08/under-the-internet-polices-radar/ coded language and implicit metaphors], which allow them to avoid outright censorship. The Internet has became a [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/04/isaac-mao-hu-yong-liu-xiaobiao-the-internet-the-media-and-the-public-sphere-in-china/ quasi-public space] where the [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/scio-training CCP’s dominance] is being constantly [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2006/09/oº∑ho-are-chinas-top-internet-cops/ exposed], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/06/fifty-cent-party-member/ ridiculed], and [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/03/tibet-her-pain-my-shame/ criticized], often in the form of political [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/09/satire-the-sanlu-incident-is-another-poisoned-arrow-targeting-our-national-industry-from-the-imperialist-reactionaries/ satire], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/10/comic-relief-chinese-netizens-find-humor-in-the-nobel-peace-prize/ jokes], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/01/music-video-“my-brother’s-at-the-bare-bottom/ videos], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/02/dont-be-the-child-of-chinese/ songs], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/poems/ popular poetry], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/01/new-drinking-songs/ jingles], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/07/internet-fiction-please-pay-my-bill/ fiction], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/08/the-olympic-dream-a-sci-fi-short-story/ sci-fi], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/08/satire-new-chinese-characters-created-by-netizens/ code words], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2007/02/self-mockery-of-cctv-broadcasters-and-employees-cctv/ mockery], and [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/01/southern-metropolis-weekly-top-10-neologisms-of-2009-part-i/ euphemisms].
+
The grass-mud horse is particularly suited to the contested space of the Chinese Internet. The government’s [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/ministry-of-truth/ pervasive and intrusive censorship system] has generated equally [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/01/video-“网瘾战争-war-of-internet-addiction”/ massive resentment] among Chinese netizens. As a result, [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/10/chinese-twitterers-mr-hu-jintao-tear-down-the-great-firewall/ new forms of social resistance] and [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/04/han-han-let-the-sunshine-in/ demands for greater freedom of information and expression] are often expressed in [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2007/08/under-the-internet-polices-radar/ coded language and implicit metaphors], which allow them to avoid outright censorship. The Internet has became a [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/04/isaac-mao-hu-yong-liu-xiaobiao-the-internet-the-media-and-the-public-sphere-in-china/ quasi-public space] where the [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/scio-training CCP’s dominance] is being constantly [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2006/09/oº∑ho-are-chinas-top-internet-cops/ exposed], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/06/fifty-cent-party-member/ ridiculed], and [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/03/tibet-her-pain-my-shame/ criticized], often in the form of political [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/09/satire-the-sanlu-incident-is-another-poisoned-arrow-targeting-our-national-industry-from-the-imperialist-reactionaries/ satire], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/10/comic-relief-chinese-netizens-find-humor-in-the-nobel-peace-prize/ jokes], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/drawing-the-news/ drawings], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/01/music-video-“my-brother’s-at-the-bare-bottom/ videos], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2011/08/music-video-people-of-july-by-chuanzi-川子/ songs], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/poems/ popular poetry], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/01/new-drinking-songs/ jingles], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/07/internet-fiction-please-pay-my-bill/ fiction], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/08/the-olympic-dream-a-sci-fi-short-story/ sci-fi], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/08/satire-new-chinese-characters-created-by-netizens/ code words], [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2007/02/self-mockery-of-cctv-broadcasters-and-employees-cctv/ mockery], and [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/01/southern-metropolis-weekly-top-10-neologisms-of-2009-part-i/ euphemisms].
  
In recent years, Chinese netizens have shown they possess boundless [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/06/blogger-googles-recent-troubles/ creativity] and [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/05/ai-weiwei-艾未未-commemoration-念/ ingenuity] in finding ways to express themselves despite [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/04/baidus-internal-monitoring-and-censorship-document-leaked/ stifling government restrictions on online speech]. Without understanding this coded but widespread “[http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china-news/translation/gmh/ grass-mud horse discourse]” through the lens of censorship and resistance, one cannot fully understand the contradictions in Chinese society today, and the possibilities for tomorrow.
+
In recent years, Chinese netizens have shown they possess boundless [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/06/blogger-googles-recent-troubles/ creativity] and [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2013/12/ten-question-badiucao-巴丢草/ ingenuity] in finding ways to express themselves despite [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/04/baidus-internal-monitoring-and-censorship-document-leaked/ stifling government restrictions on online speech]. Without understanding this coded but widespread “[http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china-news/translation/gmh/ grass-mud horse discourse]” through the lens of [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/river-crabbed/ censorship] and [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/word-of-the-week/ resistance], one cannot fully understand the [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2006/09/china-giant-contradictions-orville-schell/ contradictions] in Chinese society today, nor the [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/05/goddess-of-democracy-erected-in-beijing-workers-resistance-lags/ possibilities] for tomorrow.
  
To the uninitiated, even those who can read Chinese, this coded language can be confounding. But to Chinese Internet users, the terms often resonate deeply by expressing feelings about shared experiences that millions of people can immediately relate to. Despite their subversive beginnings, [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/01/southern-metropolis-weekly-top-10-neologisms-of-2009-part-ii/ many of the terms] have already become [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/02/hong-huang-洪晃-censorship-and-political-distopian-fiction-as-marketing-concepts/ mainstream]; a few have even been added to the authoritative [http://www.independent.co.uk/%20arts-entertainment/books/%20dictionary-adds-chatroom-%20chinese-words-that-are-simply-%20niu-awesome-2074467.html Oxford Chinese Dictionary].
+
To the uninitiated, even those who can read Chinese, this coded language can be confounding. But to Chinese netizens, the terms often resonate deeply by expressing feelings about shared experiences that millions of people can immediately relate to. Despite their subversive beginnings, [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/01/southern-metropolis-weekly-top-10-neologisms-of-2009-part-ii/ many of the terms] have already become [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/02/hong-huang-洪晃-censorship-and-political-distopian-fiction-as-marketing-concepts/ mainstream]; a few have even been added to the authoritative [http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/dictionary-adds-chatroom-chinese-words-that-are-simply-niu-awesome-2074467.html Oxford Chinese Dictionary].
  
==How have these terms been submitted and selected?==
+
==Building the Lexicon==
  
The terms in our lexicon are all created by netizens and circulated on websites inside China, not just by [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/12/twenty-most-influential-figures-in-chinas-cyberspace/ prominent bloggers] or [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/han-han/ opinion leaders]. For many of the terms, one cannot identify the original author or how exactly it originated. China Digital Times selects these terms from a variety of sources. We discovered many from a self-initiated online project of [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2006/11/my-experience-at-this-years-blogger-conference-yezi-ae∂a≠e/ Chinese bloggers] to select for the “words of the year in Chinese blogosphere.” Others come from countless online articles, blog posts, articles from mainstream publications such as [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/04/southern-metropolis-daily-let-us-all-vote-for-han-han/ Southern Metropolis Daily] or even the state-run [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/02/china-academy-of-social-sciences-2009-china-internet-public-opinion-analysis-report/ Xinhua] News Service, as well as from Chinese forums (BBS) and microblogs. The direct participation of Chinese netizens also yielded many terms after China Digital Times’s Chinese site made the call for submissions public in June 2010.
+
The terms in our lexicon are all created by netizens and circulated widely on websites inside China, not just by [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/12/twenty-most-influential-figures-in-chinas-cyberspace/ prominent bloggers] or [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/han-han/ opinion leaders]. For many of the terms, one cannot identify the original author or how exactly it originated. China Digital Times selects these terms from a variety of sources. We discovered many from a self-initiated online project of [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2006/11/my-experience-at-this-years-blogger-conference-yezi-ae∂a≠e/ Chinese bloggers] to select for the “words of the year in Chinese blogosphere.” Others come from mainstream publications such as [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/04/southern-metropolis-daily-let-us-all-vote-for-han-han/ Southern Metropolis Daily] or even the state-run [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/02/china-academy-of-social-sciences-2009-china-internet-public-opinion-analysis-report/ Xinhua] News Service, as well as from Chinese forums, Sina Weibo, and other [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/microblogs/ microblogging platforms]. The direct participation of Chinese netizens also yielded many terms after China Digital Times' Chinese site made the call for submissions public in June 2010.
  
The selected terms are not a complete recording of pop culture and online terminology. Rather, China Digital Times editors have focused exclusively on politically-charged terms which represent netizen “resistance discourse.These are not [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/sensitive-words-series/ “sensitive” keywords], which have been [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/filtered-keywords/ documented elsewhere by China Digital Times] and other projects, nor are they part of the “[http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/08/the-way-art-works-an-interview-with-zhang-yimou-1/ legitimizing discourse],” used by people who [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/05/wu-haos-deleted-microblog-exchange-about-google/ actively defend and support government policy], including [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/12/video-performance-2009-go-china/ nationalists]. At times, some of these words may be put on individual websites’ “sensitive lists” or blocked outright, but in general they are popular daily lingo for Chinese netizens.
+
The selected terms are not a complete recording of pop culture and online terminology. Rather, the China Digital Times editors have focused exclusively on politically-charged terms which represent netizen resistance discourse. These are not necessarily [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/sensitive-words-series/ “sensitive” keywords], which have been [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/filtered-keywords/ documented elsewhere by China Digital Times] and other projects, nor are they part of the “[http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/hu-xijin/ legitimizing discourse],” used by people who [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/space/Frisbee_Hu actively defend and support government policy] or [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/08/the-way-art-works-an-interview-with-zhang-yimou-1/ willingly to cooperate with the regime], including [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/12/video-performance-2009-go-china/ nationalists]. At times, [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/space/Fang_%22always_wet%22 some of these words] may be put on individual websites’ “sensitive lists” or [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/10/chinese-twitterers-mr-hu-jintao-tear-down-the-great-firewall/ blocked outright], but in general they are [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/12/netizens-force-fan-binxing-father-of-the-gfw-off-of-sina-microblog/ popular daily lingo for Chinese netizens].
  
The current list, chosen by China Digital Times editors, is by no means exhaustive, and new words are being created daily. But we hope this list will provide a glimpse into online political discourse and make it more accessible to non-Chinese readers.
+
The current list is by no means exhaustive, and new words are being created daily. But we hope this list will provide a glimpse into online political discourse and make it more accessible to non-Chinese readers.
  
==Help us build the lexicon==
+
==How You Can Help==
  
This is an ongoing open source collaborative translation program with submissions from volunteers and professional translators. What is currently published is just a seed that we hope to expand upon in coming months and years. '''''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.'''''
+
This is an ongoing open source collaborative translation program with submissions from volunteers and professional translators. What is currently published is just a seed that we hope to expand upon in coming months and years. If you are interested in participating in this project by submitting and/or translating terms, please contact our editors at '''cdt [at] chinadigitaltimes [dot] net'''.
  
China Digital Times would like to express deep gratitude for the extraordinary work of our primary translator, who wishes to remain anonymous.
+
China Digital Times would like to express deep gratitude for the extraordinary work of our primary translator, who wishes to remain anonymous, and to [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/team/translator-bios/ Liz Carter] for updating and expanding the entries.
  
 
==About China Digital Times==
 
==About China Digital Times==
  
This project is an integral part of the existing China Digital Times and will be posted on our new, collaborative wiki site, China Digital Space. China Digital Times has recently launched [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/chinese/ our Chinese version], an aggregator of marginalized, censored, and blocked materials from the Chinese blogosphere, which provides a natural archive and demonstration of the grass-mud horse language in practice.
+
This project is an integral part of China Digital Times. Check out our [http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/word-of-the-week/ Word of the Week] for new and featured entries.
 
 
<youtube v="LZHsbWskqsE" />
 
  
 
[[Category:Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon]]
 
[[Category:Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon]]

Latest revision as of 20:59, 21 March 2016

“I'm a grass-mud horse.”

Translating the Resistance Discourse of Chinese Netizens

Xiao Qiang


About the Project

The Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon is an online glossary of terms created by Chinese netizens and frequently encountered in online political discussions.

This project is part of our effort to contribute to a deeper understanding of the Internet’s cultural, social, and political impact by moving beyond anecdotal evidence and systematically documenting and interpreting political discourse created by Chinese netizens. By creating this lexicon, we hope to map out the dynamics of “censorship, domination and resistance” in Chinese communication and information networks. The aim is to vividly illustrate the increasingly dynamic and sometimes surprising presence of an alternative political discourse: images, frames, metaphors, and narratives that have been generated from Internet memes and events. This emerging “resistance discourse” steadily undermines the values and ideology that reproduce compliance with the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian regime, and, as such, force an opening for free expression and civil society in China.

Is the Internet acting as a “safety valve” to prolong the life of the Chinese authoritarian regime, or are new forms of networked communication enhancing opportunities for social change and helping to move China toward the “threshold” for political transformation? We hope this project will contribute valuable information to this debate.

Origins of the Grass-Mud Horse

In early 2009, a creature called the grass-mud horse appeared in an online music video which became an immediate viral hit. “Grass-mud horse” (cǎonímǎ 草泥马), which sounds nearly the same in Mandarin as “fuck your mother” (cào nǐ mā 肏你妈), was originally coined to get around, and also poke fun at, government censorship of vulgar content. The idea caught fire instantly, completely transforming its symbolic meaning. Within weeks, the grass-mud horse became the de facto mascot of Chinese netizens fighting for free expression, inspiring poetry, photos, videos, artwork, clothing, and more. As one Chinese blogger explained, “The 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.”

The grass-mud horse is particularly suited to the contested space of the Chinese Internet. The government’s pervasive and intrusive censorship system has generated equally massive resentment among Chinese netizens. As a result, new forms of social resistance and demands for greater freedom of information and expression are often expressed in coded language and implicit metaphors, which allow them to avoid outright censorship. The Internet has became a quasi-public space where the CCP’s dominance is being constantly exposed, ridiculed, and criticized, often in the form of political satire, jokes, drawings, videos, songs, popular poetry, jingles, fiction, sci-fi, code words, mockery, and euphemisms.

In recent years, Chinese netizens have shown they possess boundless creativity and ingenuity in finding ways to express themselves despite stifling government restrictions on online speech. Without understanding this coded but widespread “grass-mud horse discourse” through the lens of censorship and resistance, one cannot fully understand the contradictions in Chinese society today, nor the possibilities for tomorrow.

To the uninitiated, even those who can read Chinese, this coded language can be confounding. But to Chinese netizens, the terms often resonate deeply by expressing feelings about shared experiences that millions of people can immediately relate to. Despite their subversive beginnings, many of the terms have already become mainstream; a few have even been added to the authoritative Oxford Chinese Dictionary.

Building the Lexicon

The terms in our lexicon are all created by netizens and circulated widely on websites inside China, not just by prominent bloggers or opinion leaders. For many of the terms, one cannot identify the original author or how exactly it originated. China Digital Times selects these terms from a variety of sources. We discovered many from a self-initiated online project of Chinese bloggers to select for the “words of the year in Chinese blogosphere.” Others come from mainstream publications such as Southern Metropolis Daily or even the state-run Xinhua News Service, as well as from Chinese forums, Sina Weibo, and other microblogging platforms. The direct participation of Chinese netizens also yielded many terms after China Digital Times' Chinese site made the call for submissions public in June 2010.

The selected terms are not a complete recording of pop culture and online terminology. Rather, the China Digital Times editors have focused exclusively on politically-charged terms which represent netizen resistance discourse. These are not necessarily “sensitive” keywords, which have been documented elsewhere by China Digital Times and other projects, nor are they part of the “legitimizing discourse,” used by people who actively defend and support government policy or willingly to cooperate with the regime, including nationalists. At times, some of these words may be put on individual websites’ “sensitive lists” or blocked outright, but in general they are popular daily lingo for Chinese netizens.

The current list is by no means exhaustive, and new words are being created daily. But we hope this list will provide a glimpse into online political discourse and make it more accessible to non-Chinese readers.

How You Can Help

This is an ongoing open source collaborative translation program with submissions from volunteers and professional translators. What is currently published is just a seed that we hope to expand upon in coming months and years. If you are interested in participating in this project by submitting and/or translating terms, please contact our editors at cdt [at] chinadigitaltimes [dot] net.

China Digital Times would like to express deep gratitude for the extraordinary work of our primary translator, who wishes to remain anonymous, and to Liz Carter for updating and expanding the entries.

About China Digital Times

This project is an integral part of China Digital Times. Check out our Word of the Week for new and featured entries.