Grass Mud Horse

ai weiwei by Tom Tian

The Grass Mud Horse or Caoníma, 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 which translate literally to, ‘fuck your mother,’ and is one of the so-called ’10 mythical creatures’ created in a hoax article on ‘Baidu Baike’ (a collaborative encyclopedia) in early 2009 whose names form obscene puns. Official ‘cleanup’ of the internet, which threatens the Caonima, has led Chinese internet users to create other ‘Mud Horse’ variants, such as the ‘Rolling Mud Horse’ and ‘Working Mud Horse,’ which are also puns for ‘fuck your mother.’

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.’

It has become an Internet chat forum cult phenomenon in China, and has garnered worldwide press attention, with videos, cartoons and merchandise of the animal, which supposedly resembles the alpaca, having appeared. 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,’ which is close in pronunciation of a Chinese expression meaning ‘fuck your mother’s cunt.’ The animal is characterized as ‘lively, intelligent and tenacious.’ However, their existence is said to be threatened by ‘river crabs’ which are invading their habitat. The river crab symbolizes official censorship.

Its pronunciation resembles the word for ‘harmony,’ 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 ‘wears three watches’sounds similar to an expression of the ideology of the ‘Three Represents,’ an interpretation of communism promoted by former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin.

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