Grass Mud Horse
|Grass Mud Horse|
|A Grass Mud Horse plush doll|
|Literal meaning||grass mud horse|
The Grass Mud Horse or Cǎonímǎ (草泥马), is a Chinese Internet meme widely used as a form of symbolic defiance of the widespread Internet censorship in China. It is a play on the Mandarin language words cào nǐ mā (肏你妈), literally, "fuck your mother", and is one of the so-called 10 mythical creatures created in a hoax article on Baidu Baike in early 2009 whose names form obscene puns. It has become an Internet chat forum cult phenomenon in China and has garnered world-wide press attention, with videos, cartoons and merchandise of the animal (which is said to resemble the alpaca), having appeared.
Etymology and species
The Caonima, literally "Grass Mud Horse", is supposedly a species of alpaca. The name is derived from a profanity (Chinese: 肏你妈/操你媽; pinyin: cào nǐ mā), which translates as "fuck your mother". This is similar to the English insult "motherfucker". The comparison with the "animal" name is not an actual homophone: the two terms have the same consonants and vowels with different tones, which are represented by different characters.
According to the original, anonymous article from Baidu Baike, Grass Mud Horses originate from an area known as the "Mahler Gobi" Desert (马勒戈壁, Mǎlè Gēbì, which resembles the Chinese characters 妈了个屄, māle ge bī, meaning "your mother's fucking cunt"). Some variants of the animal are known as "Fertile Grass Mud Horses" (沃草泥马, Wò Cǎonímǎ, which resembles 我肏你妈, Wǒ cào nǐ mā, meaning "I fuck your mother"). The Grass Mud Horse can only eat fertile grass (沃草, wò cǎo, which resembles 我肏, Wǒ cào, meaning "I fuck!" or simply "Fuck!"). Other subspecies are known as "Crazy/Violent/Insane Grass Mud Horses" (狂草泥马, Kuáng Cǎonímǎ), which are considered the "kings" of the Caonima. The initial image found in the original Baidu Baike article was a zebra, but was turned into an alpaca in subsequent revisions.
Because the Grass Mud Horse is said to be the dominant species which lives within the Mahler Gobi Desert, the region is also called the "Grass Mud Horse Gobi Desert" (草泥马戈壁, Cǎonímǎ Gēbì, which is close in pronunciation to 肏你妈个屄, cào nǐ mā ge bī, meaning "fuck your mother's cunt"). The animal is characterised as "lively, intelligent and tenacious". However, their existence is said to be threatened by "river crabs" which are invading their habitat.
The river crab (河蟹, héxiè) symbolises official censorship. Its pronunciation resembles the word for "harmony" (和谐, héxié), in reference to the "harmonious society" which the Chinese leadership professes to aspire to, and which Chinese internet censors use to justify internet censorship. The term "crab" itself is rural slang, meaning "a bully who uses power through force", and the "river crab" has become a symbol of crude censorship backed with the threat of force. The river crab is often depicted wearing three wristwatches, since 带三个表 (dài sān ge biǎo, "wears three watches") sounds similar to 三个代表 (Sāngè Dàibiǎo), the ideology of the "Three Represents", an interpretation of communism promoted by former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin.
Music videos, "documentaries", and cartoons about the Grass Mud Horse started appearing on the internet in 2009. The original Grass Mud Horse music video's musical arrangement of a children's choir has been compared to It's a Small World, and it scored 1.4 million hits in its first three months. A cartoon about the Grass Mud Horse attracted a quarter million views, a nature documentary on its habits received 180,000 more hits in the same amount of time. Even though some Grass Mud Horse videos were not technically blocked by Chinese censors, some had their sound blocked, with a message saying "This video contains an audio track that has not been authorized by WMG."
Yazhou Zhoukan (亞洲周刊) reported that Zhan Bin, a teacher at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, created a new Chinese character by fusing the three Chinese character radicals for "grass", "mud", and "horse". The word has no official pronunciation. Official "cleanup" of the internet, which threatens the Caonima, has led Chinese internet users to create other "Mud Horse" variants, such as the "滾泥马" (Gǔnnímǎ, "Rolling Mud Horse") and the "幹泥马" (Gànnímǎ, "Working Mud Horse"). "Gunnima" and "Gannima" are puns for "fuck off" and "fuck your mother" respectively.
The "Grass Mud Horse" became widely known on the English-language web following the 11 March 2009 publication of a New York Times article on the phenomenon, which sparked widespread discussion on blogs. In March 2011, "Grass Mud Horse" themed merchandise, such as plush dolls, began being sold over the Internet. One Guangzhou toy manufacturer reportedly produced its first batch of 150 Grass Mud Horse cuddly toys with official birth certificates issued by Mahler Gebi Mystical Creatures Bureau. The animals come in brown and white, named "Male" (马勒) and "Gebi" (歌碧) respectively, and sell for 40 yuan each. To accompany these, a user's and feeding manual have been created. Whereas they were called 'Caonima' before the crackdown, Internet sellers now list them using the correct Chinese term, '羊驼' (Alpaca).
In 2009, renowned artist Ai Weiwei published an image of himself nude with only a 'Caonima' hiding his genitals, with a caption "草泥马挡中央" ("cǎonímǎ dǎng zhōngyāng", literally "a Grass Mud Horse covering the center". One interpretation of the caption is: "fuck your mother, Communist Party Central Committee". Political observers speculated that the photo may have contributed to Ai's arrest in 2011 by angering Communist Party hardliners. Human rights activists and journalists in Hong Kong believed that Ai offered himself to the authorities on a platter with this provocative art.
The China Digital Times sees Caonima as the "de facto mascot of netizens in China fighting for free expression, inspiring poetry, photos and videos, artwork, lines of clothing, and more." It is an illustration of the "resistance discourse" of Chinese internet users with "increasingly dynamic and sometimes surprising presence of an alternative political discourse: images, frames, metaphors and narratives that have been generated from Internet memes [that] undermine 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."
On 20 March 2009, the New York Times reported that a Chinese contributor to Global Voices Online posted a message from an Internet administrator to managers of online bulletin boards warning that "any content related with Grass-Mud Horse should not be promoted and hyped" because "the issue has been elevated to a political level ... The overseas media has exaggerated the incident as a confrontation between netizens and the government."
In a press conference on 25 March, the Foreign Ministry confirmed that China's access to YouTube had been officially blocked since two days earlier. According to Reporters Without Borders, the block was an attempt to stem videos showing Chinese repression of the Tibetan population in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising of 10 March 1959, and to block access to the popular Grass Mud Horse video posted in early March.
The State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television issued a directive on 30 March 2009 to highlight 31 categories of content prohibited online, including violence, pornography, and content which may "incite ethnic discrimination or undermine social stability". Many netizens believe the instruction follows the official embarrassment over the rise of the "Grass Mud Horse" phenomenon. Industry observers believe that the move was designed to stop the spread of parodies or other comments on politically sensitive issues in the runup to the anniversary of the 4 June Tiananmen Square protests. Following the government's directive, most Chinese essays and blog postings made about the Grass Mud Horse have been removed from the Internet after being discovered by government censors.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Caonima|
- "CDT Launches the Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon", China Digital Times, 7 December 2010
- The official Mud Grass Horse Song in the original Chinese with English annotations.
- Sim Chi Yin, "Mythical creature a not-so-secret weapon against Net nannies", Straits Times, 27 March 2009
- China Digital Times' Grass-mud Horse Lexicon
- CNN explains the grass-mud horse on YouTube
- Another viral Grass-mud horse song with English subtitles on YouTube