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Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon old introduction

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Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon: Translating the Resistance Discourse of Chinese Netizens

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A project of "China Digital Times"

About the Project

CDT 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.

This project is part of our effort to contribute to the ongoing debate over 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 "domination and resistance" in Chinese communication and information networks, and illustrate how the Internet has produced an alternative political discourse: images, frames, metaphors and narratives that are undermining the values and ideology which reproduce compliance with the Chinese Communist Party's authoritarian regime.

Ultimately, 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 is it fostering new forms of networked communication which enhance the opportunities for social change and help to move China toward the "threshold" for political transformation?

In early 2009, a creature named the "Grass Mud Horse" appeared in an online video which became an immediate viral hit. Within weeks, "Grass Mud Horse," or "Cao Ni Ma," which is phonetically equivalent to "F*** Your Mother" in Chinese, became the de facto mascot of netizens in China fighting for free expression, inspiring poetry, photos and videos, artwork, lines of clothing, and more. As one Chinese blogger explained, "“Grass Mud Horse (草泥马)” 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 was particularly suited to the contested space of the Chinese Internet. The government’s pervasive and intrusive censorship system has generated resentment among Chinese Netizens, inspiring new forms of social resistance and demands for greater freedom of information and expression, often expressed in coded language and implicit metaphors, which allow it to avoid outright censorship. As a result, 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, videos, songs, popular poetry, code words, mockery, and euphemisms.

In recent years, Chinese netizens have shown they possess boundless creativity and ingenuity in finding such ways to express themselves despite stifling government restrictions on online speech. To the uninitiated, even those who can read Chinese, their 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, many of the terms have already become mainstream in Chinese society; a few were even added to the Oxford Chinese dictionary this year.

  • How have these Terms Been Submitted and Selected?*

The terms in our lexicon are all created by netizens and circulated 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. CDT selected 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 countless online articles, blog posts, articles from mainstream publications such as Southern Metropolis Daily or even Xinhua, and from Chinese BBS. The direct participation of Chinese netizens also yielded many terms after CDT’s Chinese version made the call for submissions public in June 2010.

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

The current list, chosen by CDT 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.

  • Help Us Build the Lexicon*

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 CDT editors.

CDT would like to express gratitude for the extraordinary work of our primary translator, who wishes to remain anonymous.

  • About China Digital Times:*

This project is an integral part of the existing China Digital Times. CDT has recently launched our Chinese version, an aggregator of marginalized, censored or blocked materials from the Chinese blogosphere, therefore providing a natural archive and demonstration of such language in practice.

Please click to read the [Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon].