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Grass-mud horse: China’s answer to censorship

March 12, 2009

I generally avoid linking to the New York Times, but this article should be an exception. From the Times:

The grass-mud horse is an example of something that, in China’s authoritarian system, passes as subversive behavior. Conceived as an impish protest against censorship, the foul-named little horse has not merely made government censors look ridiculous, although it has surely done that.

It has also raised real questions about China’s ability to stanch the flow of information over the Internet — a project on which the Chinese government already has expended untold riches, and written countless software algorithms to weed deviant thought from the world’s largest cyber-community.

This Times piece also highlights the tiresome anachronism of avoiding obscenity in print. It’s grimly ironic that the Times can’t tell us why the grass-mud  horse is so subversive because of self-censorship. In Chinese, grass-mud horse (草泥马) is a string of homonyms that could also mean “Fuck your mother.”

While that could be roughly guessed at, so could a number of bawdy expressions. The Times only tells us that it’s a “vile obscenity,” “a foul named little horse,” “double entendres with inarguably dirty second meanings” (a bumbling tautology), “a nasty curse” etc. It’s astounding the hoops the Times jumps through to convey what they could best convey by simply printing the damn phrase.

In any case, here’s another link and a video:

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