There’s a new phenomenon sweeping China. Back in January on a Chinese web page, a new video made its way from there into the hearts of internet users all across the country, spawning a wave of related items such as cartoons, documentaries and grass-mud horse dolls.
Even academics are writing papers on the social significance of the grass-mud horse. Articles in the NY Times & Slate online (profanity warning) have tried to explain what it means along with this (profanity warning) and this in Chinese.
So what is this all about? Per the NY Times:
“As depicted online, the grass-mud horse seems innocent enough at the start.
An alpaca-like animal — in fact, the videos show alpacas — it lives in a desert whose name resembles yet another foul word. The horses are “courageous, tenacious and overcome the difficult environment,” a YouTube song about them says.
But they face a problem: invading “river crabs” that are devouring their grassland. In spoken Chinese, “river crab” sounds very much like “harmony,” which in China’s cyberspace has become a synonym for censorship. Censored bloggers often say their posts have been “harmonized” — a term directly derived from President Hu Jintao’s regular exhortations for Chinese citizens to create a harmonious society.
In the end, one song says, the horses are victorious: “They defeated the river crabs in order to protect their grassland; river crabs forever disappeared from the Ma Le Ge Bi,” the desert.
The online videos’ scenes of alpacas happily romping to the Disney-style sounds of a children’s chorus quickly turn shocking — then, to many Chinese, hilarious — as it becomes clear that the songs fairly burst with disgusting language.”
Here are the lyrics:
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
I ran across this explanation in the China Digital Times, which managed to explain it without crossing our obscenity barrier:
The Song of “Grass Mud Horse (草泥马)” : A Public Metaphor
One talented person invented the word “Grass Mud Horse (草泥马),” then another created a spoof called “The Song of the ‘Grass Mud’ Horse.” In the anything-goes world of the internet, this alone is just a small thing. But the fact that the whole online crowd discovered this song, is singing it loudly, and takes it as their own language as a way to express themselves, is really something.
As a metaphor, everyone understands what “Grass Mud Horse (草泥马)” really means. It’s a curse that is not so appropriate for public use. But we all have the impulse to express such emotions, and therefore use the alternatives “Grass Mud Horse (草泥马)” and “Ma Le Desert (马勒戈壁).” Now “the Song of the Grass Mud Horse” appeared and has become so popular, because the meaning of such a metaphor really resonated deeply with us. Probably because this song reflected the popular psychological sentiment, it naturally became a hit.
In the song, “Grass Mud Horse” was living freely in the beautiful Ma Le Desert (马勒戈壁). but their survival faces a crisis, because the arrival of river crabs destroyed the grasses they rely on to live. What should Grass Mud horses do?
Here, the conflict between two forces is very apparent.
“Grass Mud Horse (草泥马)” originates from a dirty sentence, and its original meaning is quite offensive. But in this song, Grass Mud Horse became the representation of a charming and vulnerable animal and the singer gives them his/her sympathy.
“Grass Mud Horse (草泥马)” is not an uncivilized word and is not officially banned, therefore it can be sung publicly. Although many people use “Grass Mud horse” as an alternative curse or just use it randomly, this word and its deviant expression already generated a pattern of discourse and sub-culture. “Grass Mud Horse (草泥马)” represents such information and opinions which cannot be accepted by the mainstream discourse, and “the Song of the Grass Mud Horse” has become a metaphor of the power struggle over Internet expression.