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:
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:
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.
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