Saturday, March 14, 2009

The tale of the "Grass-Mud-Horse" (or "F**k Your Mother")

The latest internet phenomenon in China is a little hard to grasp initially if you're not too familiar with Chinese language and culture, but bear with me, it's funny as hell. It's all about subersiveness in the face of censorship, in the form of seemingly harmless children's stories and songs, and features enough naughty words to entertain the big kid in all of us.

I wrote a post barely a week ago about tonal languages such as Chinese, and all the complexities and risks of having words that sound almost identical. But within such a language system lies much potential for cheekiness.

Early in 2009, entries began to appear on the website Baidu Baike (basically a heavily self-censored Chinese version of Wikipedia), describing a mythical fantastic creature, called the Grass Mud Horse, from the Mahler Gobi desert, a fun-loving and courageous animal which lives peacefully except when battling against its enemy, the river crabs.

So far, just an unusual kid's tale, right?

Except when you figure that Cao Ni Ma, or "Grass Mud Horse" also can mean "F**k your mother", depending on the tones used for the word. So just as the quite unremarkable names "Wayne King" and "Mike Hunt" can sound like "wanking" and "my c**t" when said aloud, the Mandarin phrase "Grass Mud Horse" is innocent enough when written, but rude when said aloud.

The place where the Cao Ni Ma resides the Mahler Gobi desert (Ma Le Ge Bi) also sounds just like the words for "your mother's c**t".

The term "river crabs" (he xie) is a homophone of "harmony", which is the enemy of the Grass Mud Horse.

Confused? Here is the context.

The Grass Mud Horse internet meme is all about giving the middle finger to the forces of censorship in China. The reference to "harmony" is a euphemism for "censorship" - the Chinese government strictly polices the internet and censors content in order to create its "harmonious society". So rude words, pornography, and dissenting information are all blocked. Yet, a seemingly innocent story about the mythical Grass Mud Horse and River Crabs would not be subject to censorship - and hence appeared on Baidu Baike.

So, its basically like a school student saying something vulgar in front of the teacher, but getting away with it because it sounds like something innocuous. Sure, it's pretty juvenile, but in a society where the Government treats its citizens like children, what can they expect?

The Cao Ni Ma meme has become such a phenomenon that you can buy grass mud horse dolls in shops. There's even a children's song about the Cao Ni Ma that has appeared on youtube, which has amassed millions of viewers. Check it out below (be warned about its coarse language). The English translation is not really accurate, but you get the idea.

Kinda catchy, no?

And the grass mud horse is not the only mythical creature to appear on Baidu Baike. There is also the "Lucky Journey Cat" (Ji Ba Mao, which is a homophone of "pubic hair"), the "Superior Tail Whale" (Wei Shen Jing, also meaning "menstrual pads"), the "Intelligent Fragrant Chicken" (Da Fei Ji, or "Shooting the Aeroplane" - a euphemism for masturbation), the French-Croatian Squid (Fa Ke Yu - you can figure that one out) and others, each with their own mythology full of double-entendres.

I now have increased respect for the Chinese and their sense of humour - it makes the "pussy" references on "Are You Being Served" pale by comparison.

You can read the NY Times article about it here, and the full Wikipedia description here.

No comments:

Post a Comment