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Revision as of 23:50, 5 February 2012

草泥马 (cǎo ní mǎ): Grass-mud horse

The term grass-mud horse, which sounds nearly the same in Chinese as “f*** your mother” (cáo 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 "harmony," a propaganda catchword, the idea caught fire and the video became a viral hit. 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--thus the phrase, "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: one who is 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 (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."

For more on the grass-mud horse, see China Digital Times.

While originally conceived as a zebra, the grass-mud horse is now depicted as an alpaca.
The grass-mud horse, originally just a thinly veiled profanity, has become a potent political symbol. Here a grass-mud horse is shown in place of "tank man," who stood before the tanks as they rolled into Tiananmen Square.
Paying respects to a snow grass-mud horse.
Made up character combining components of the characters, grass, mud and horse
Grass-mud horse army

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Grass-Mud Horse Quiz 2015: Test Your Netizen Slang

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Grass-Mud Horse Quiz: How Good Is Your Netizen Slang?

17 July 2015, by Sophie Beach

Decoding the Chinese Internet eBook (2015 Edition)

16 July 2015, by Sophie Beach

CDT eBook: Decoding the Chinese Internet

15 September 2014, by Anne Henochowicz

Cuddly Protest Icon Says ‘Neigh’ To Censorship

22 January 2014, by josh rudolph

ChinaFile Video: Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon (Updated)

24 October 2013, by Sophie Beach

Billionaire Detained in Civil Society Crackdown

13 September 2013, by Samuel Wade

In China, Avoiding The Internet Censors

9 September 2013, by Sophie Beach

Word of the Week: “Party” Central Committee

5 December 2012, by Anne Henochowicz

Album: First Annual Grass-Mud Horse Festival

4 July 2012, by Anne Henochowicz

Watch Your Language! (In China, They Really Do)

13 March 2012, by Sophie Beach

Grass-Mud Horse Word of the Week

7 March 2012, by Anne Henochowicz

Ai Weiwei Faces Obstructions, Threats as Payment Deadline Looms (Updated)

15 November 2011, by Samuel Wade

Quiz: How Well Do You Know Chinese Netizen-Speak?

9 August 2011, by Sophie Beach

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