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The Ban of A Cursing Horse. A guest blog by Katrien Jacobs

I am delighted to introduce our current guest blogger, Katrien Jacobs, a scholar and media artist who investigates the role of digital networks in people’s experiences with the body, art, and sexuality. She has lectured and published widely about pornography, censorship and media activism in Hong Kong and global media environments.

Katrien is author of Intellect's forthcoming publication People's Pornography: Sex and Surveillance on the Chinese Internet.

Katrien's first blog discusses the Grass Mud Horse, which was a viral web phenomenom in China, which was subsequently banned by the state. A subversive cursing horse - intrigued? I know i am!

One day in my office at a mainland Chinese student burst into my room and began to report on a new Chinese Internet phenomenon. He was totally excited about a powerful “horse” figure that looked like an alpaca and was named after a Chinese swear word. At that point, we were totally lost in communication about the precise nature of this creature and the Internet phenomenon, but in the meantime he had transferred a fair amount of manic energy into the possibilities of my book. When leaving my office, he asked me if I liked the horse, “Grass Mud Horse,” (草泥马, Cao Ni Ma) and I said that yes--I did like it. I slowly developed a real passion for this surreal animal, together with thousands of Chinese Netizens who had given it a political goal, a biography, a physical incarnation and a blasphemous theme song. They were also eroticizing it, remixing its theme song with children’s music, creating “cute” animations videos and photo-collages, to such extent that the horse-meme went viral and still has a powerful presence up to the present day.

How can one not like the Grass Mud Horse? It is a plain looking animal whose teeth are yellow and crooked, who looks silly and dumb and who salivates like a baby. When I heard that the Grass Mud Horse and its entire meme had been banned in China, I had to praise the netizens’ movement for inventing a sophisticated tool against censorship. How can one censor a cursing horse without appearing dim-witted or desperate? The Grass Mud Horse had became an Internet meme in 2009 and was widely used as symbolic defiance of the widespread Internet censorship, more specifically the government policy proposal to have the anti-pornography filtering software Greendam Youth Escort installed on all computers sold in the PRC. Ten mythical animals were created on the interactive encyclopedia Baidu Baike (The Chinese Wikipedia) and people started using them for humorously vulgar acts of protest. Amongst the other animals were the  "French-Croatian Squid"(‘Fuck you’,法克,魷fa ke you), the "Small Elegant Butterfly" (original Japnese:止めて(yamete), to stop 雅蠛蝶, ya mie die) and the "Chrysanthemum Silkworms" (菊花蠶, originally 菊花残, Chrysanthemums scattered. Pinyin: Ju hua can). All of their Chinese names vaguely refer to Chinese profanities, as they utilize homophones and characters whose meaning changes when a different tone is applied.

The Grass-Mud Horse is supposedly a species of the alpaca. The name is derived from cào nǐ mā(肏你妈), whose near-equivalent word translates as "fuck your mother". The greatest enemy of the grass-mud horse is the "river crab" (河蟹, héxiè) whose name resembles 和谐 héxié meaning "harmony", referring to government censors who wish to create a "harmonious society"(和諧社會, hexie shehui) (Lam 2009). The fad spread like a benign virus and was later popularized as an actual stuffed animal, an activist icon-turned commodity. The popular theme song of the grass-mud horse was banned by The State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television in March 2009 together with the official blocking of the entire meme itself. (1) The mythic figure survived and was later creatively conjoined with “Greendam Girl” (綠壩娘, lvba niang) as the satirical cartoon character who protects state interests.  She preaches a compulsive rhetoric in support of “harmonizing the family,” acting like a bossy government official who enjoys saddling people with moral directives. The surreal and humorous qualities of these figures tapped into the populist stream, or indeed, pop culture itself, and helped to spur a viral movement of humor and protest.

The gift of two large stuffed animals arrived in my office several months after the intial excitied visit from my student. One of them sits on my book shelf and evokes comments from nearly every visitors. Some visitors understand the reference to activism immediately, while many see it as a cute and exotic animal from Latin America or Australia. I always wonder what people are going to say about the horse, and it also conveys the sense that I am indeed human. I am a Fire Horse according to the Chinese horoscope, but have a soft side and a childish streak that craves stuffed animals.



(1)    Grass Mud Horse Theme Song can be found at http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/02/music-video-the-song-of-the-grass-dirt-horse/

Posted by James Campbell at 14:39 (0) comments
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