China: More on Grass Mud Horse

China Digital Times has translated the Song of Grass Mud Horse, a big hit in the Internet, in early February. In brief, Grass Mud Horse (草泥馬) is said to be a legendary creature in China, but it is phonetically equivalent to “Fxxk Your Mother!” in Chinese. There are other similar vulgar terms circulating in the Internet (via DANWEI).

Grass Mud Horse crossing the red light

The song continues to raise more and more attention in the past two months and public intellectuals joined in the discussion. Beifeng summarized the Grass Mud Horse issue in his weekly online digest:

近来,有一个叫“草泥马”的网络新词,在没有任何迹象的状态下,横空出世,走红网络,甚至崔卫平等专家学者也在著文谈论“草泥马”,网上还出现了“ 草泥马”的玩具。“草泥马”的起源已不可考,被广为关注是因09年1月初一篇题为“百度10大神兽”的帖子及两则恶搞视频《马勒戈壁上的草泥马》、《草泥马之歌》的广泛流传,该词的出笼疑与网络“反低俗”运动有关。在网友的文本中,“草泥马”是生活在“马勒戈壁”上的一种动物,为了争夺食物“卧草”而与“ 河蟹”展开战争,最后打败了“河蟹”。网友“一点五”认为:“‘草泥马’作为中国网络史上第一个‘无厘头’网络新词,其实是网民心中情结的一次集体下意识沸腾,它发出的应该是这样一个明晰信号:今天的执政者在网民心中正在渐渐掉进‘塔西佗陷阱’。作为执政者,有权视而不见,有权视而无物,但作为网民,则会愈加相信‘河蟹从此消失草泥马戈壁’。”

Recently there is a popular online term called “Grass Mud Horse”, it pops up all at a sudden and crosses the red light. Even intellectual like Cui Weiping has written article on “Grass Mud Horse”, and now we have “Grass Mud Horse” toy on the internet. It is difficult to trace what is the origin of “Grass Mud Horse”, all we know is that around early Jan 2009, a post titled as “10 legendary creatures in Baidu” has caught our attention, together with two spoofing video “Grass Mud Horse at Ma Le Desert” and “Song of Grass Mud Horse”. It is said that the appearance of the term is related with the “anti-Smut” campaign. The article said that “Grass Mud Horse” is a creature living in “Ma Le Desert” (translator note: phonetically equivalent to “mother's cxxt”), the creature launches a battle with “river crab” (translator note: harmony / meaning censorship policy) in order to keep their stock grass (translator note: also phonetically equivalent to “fxxk”). Netizen 1.5 pointed out that “Grass Mud Horse” emerged as a “ridiculous” popular term, is actually a collective conscious of netizens for sending out the signal: the ruling elites has fallen into the trap of Tacitus in the eye of netizens. The ruling elites have the power to see without seeing, but for the netizens, they believe that “river crabs will disappear from the Ma La Desert”.

Anti-smut and anti spiritual contamination

Cui's article, titled as “I am a Grass Mud Horse”, is very influential in the Internet and among the intellectual circle as he related the anti-Smut campaign with the “eradicating spiritual contamination campaign” in 1983, which also reminded intellectuals of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s:

这个“专项行动”对于知识分子有点隔膜,他们或许会想,至少这件事情与自己没有关系,怎么着也不会栽到这种事情上面。需要提醒的是,在许多方面,这件事情与1983年的“清除精神污染”有着非常相似之处。官方称,“截至2月10日,专项整治行动中已关闭严重违法违规网站1911家,关闭淫秽色情博客 269个。”官方并先后公布了四批涉及低俗网站名单,其中有新浪、搜狐、百度、腾讯、令人讶异的是“豆瓣”这样长期被认为是高品位的“小资网站”,也在被点名、需要严厉整治之列。

This “special action” (refer to anti Smut campaign) seems not directly affecting intellectuals. They may feel that it doesn't really concern them. However, we need to be reminded that, in many aspects, the whole issue is very similar to the “eradicating spiritual contamination campaign” in 1983. The government said “up till Feb 10, the campaign has closed 1911 websites and 269 indecent bloggers.” They also disclosed the lists of vulgar websites, which involved sina, soho, baidu, tencent and suprisingly “douban” which is considered as good-taste “bourgeois” website. It is named and becomes a target for the cleaning.


An online friend said that “I once wished that douban can become a platform for intellectual thought for the post-80 generation and become part of our life.”

However, many groups have been deleted in the anti-Smut campaign and it is obvious that they are neither “indecent” nor “vulgar” (via my global advocacy post).

Weapons of the weak

Anthropologist, Guo Yuhua, also joined in the discussion and used James Scott's “weapons of the weak” and “hidden transcript” to elaborate the meaning of “Grass Mud Horse” phenomena:


Political spoof is a helpless move, an expression of frustration. However, it is also the “weapons of the weak”, an expression of the grassroots. They are not the powerful, and are not in control of the “public transcript”. For them, open, appropriate and free expression has been blocked, and they can only use the “weapon of the weak” to create “hidden transcript”. We shouldn't underestimate this kind of “Grass Mud Horse” expression, as it is a sign of free choice: either to become a silent and tamed goat or to become a “brave and stubborn” “Grass Mud Horse”.


We shouldn't be pessimistic about this kind of expression. Scott's research told us that, the intersection of public and hidden transcript is a contesting space between the dominated and the subordinated. It is not an unmovable wall. Through the hidden transcript, the subordinated class can create a social space, which in itself is an achievement. The “Grass Mud Horse”, which are deprived of expression space, could not expect the space to be given, it is only through struggle that they can preserve the space, the process is most important.


Lastly I want to point out that we shouldn't be offended by “Grass Mud Horse” vulgar and cheap expression, nor should we question elegant intellectuals like Cui Weiping's decision to join in the political spoof by using the term. The logic and message is very clear here: If the government is not messing up, the people won't do the same; if the upper rank elites don't She-teng (torment), the subordinated won't do the same; if the “river crabs” are not vulgar, the “Grass Mud Horse” won't be vulgar.

Song of Grass Mud Horse

Below is one of the most popular version of the “Grass Mud Horse”, lyrics translated by China Digital Times:

There is a herd of Grass Mud Horses*
In the wild and beautiful Ma Le Desert**
They are lively and intelligent
they are fun-loving and nimble
They live freely in the Ma Le Desert
They are courageous, tenacious, and overcome the difficult environment

Oh lying down Grass Mud Horse
Oh running wild Grass Mud Horse
They defeated river crabs*** in order to protect their grass land
River crabs forever disappeared from Ma Le Desert


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