The Grass-Mud Horse vs. the River Crab


Online dissidents in China have invented a mythical creature called the "grass-mud horse" whose name is innocuous in print but sounds an awful lot like "Fuck Your Mother" (or, as The New York Times puts it, "an especially vile obscenity") when pronounced in Mandarin. The joke is on the government's Internet censors, who are using an anti-porn campaign as an excuse to squelch unapproved opinions. The superficially juvenile grass-mud horse stories, songs, YouTube videos, and dolls are ostensibly neither smutty nor political, but the underlying message is pretty clear:

An alpaca-like animal—in fact, the videos show alpacas—[the grass-mud horse] lives in a desert whose name resembles yet another foul word ["your mother's cunt"]. 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.

Here is a translation and exposition of "The Song of the Grass-Mud Horse."

NEXT: Hitler's Family Struggle

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  1. Hm. Clever – those Chinese.

  2. As long as dissidents can make Grass-Mud Horse videos, there is still hope in the world.

  3. Remember the Alamo
    When help was on the way
    It’s better here and now,
    I feel that good today.

    I’d like to take a walk
    But not around the block
    I really got some news
    I met a man from Mars.
    He picked up all my guitars
    And played me traveling songs.

    And when we got on ship
    He brought out
    something for the trip
    And said, It’s old but it’s good
    Like any other primitive would.

    I’m gonna ride my llama
    From Peru to Texarkana
    I wanna ride him good
    In my old neighborhood
    I’m gonna ride him good
    In my old neighborhood.

    And when we got on ship
    He brought out
    something for the trip
    And said, It’s old but it’s good
    Like any other primitive would.

  4. Even as India grows, child hunger persists
    By Somini Sengupta

    Friday, March 13, 2009
    NEW DELHI: Small, sick, listless children have long been India’s scourge ? “a national shame,” in the words of its prime minister, Manmohan Singh. But even after a decade of galloping economic growth, child malnutrition rates are worse here than in many sub-Saharan African countries, and they stand out as a paradox in a proud democracy.

    China, that other Asian economic powerhouse, sharply reduced child malnutrition, and now just 7 percent of its children under 5 are underweight, a critical gauge of malnutrition. In India, by contrast, despite robust growth and good government intentions, the comparable number is 42.5 percent. Malnutrition makes children more prone to illness and stunts physical and intellectual growth for a lifetime.

    There are no simple explanations. Economists and public health experts say stubborn malnutrition rates point to a central failing in this democracy of the poor. Amartya Sen, the Nobel prize-winning economist, lamented that hunger was not enough of a political priority here. India’s public expenditure on health remains low, and in some places, financing for child nutrition programs remains unspent.

    Yet several democracies have all but eradicated hunger. And ignoring the needs of the poor altogether does spell political peril in India, helping to topple parties in the last elections. For now, politicians seem more focused on the general issue of inequality than hunger.

    Other experts point to the efficiency of an authoritarian state like China. In India, a sluggish and sometimes corrupt state has only haltingly put in place relatively simple solutions ? iodizing salt, for instance, or making sure all children are immunized against preventable diseases ? to say nothing of its progress on the harder tasks, like changing what and how parents feed their children. Yet as China itself grew more prosperous, it has had its own struggles with health care, as the government safety net has shredded with its adoption of a more market-driven economy.

  5. Here is a wikipedia list of all the ten creatures and their etymological evolution, you donkey raping shiteaters.

  6. I thought haiku was
    incomprehensible mess
    grass-mud horse? What the?

  7. China, that other Asian economic powerhouse, sharply reduced child malnutrition…

    Of course, it helps considerably when you can limit families to having only one child – even to the point of forced abortions.

  8. The Indians meanwhile get to speak with Americans from ubiquitous call centers and get called names like Your Mother’s Cunt and Twat Lips when they can’t succesful solve the tech problem at hand.

  9. How clever of them.
    The Chinese can speak their minds
    Until they see tanks.

  10. Other experts point to the efficiency of an authoritarian state like China.

    China, that other Asian economic powerhouse, sharply reduced child malnutrition.

    Yes, we know everything was good in China prior to the market reforms. The Communist Party of China told us so, and they wouldn’t lie, would they?

    Oh, and from Wikipedia on the “Great Leap Forward”:

    The official toll of excess deaths recorded in China for the years of the GLF* is 14 million, but scholars have estimated the number of famine victims to be between 20 and 43 million.

    *Abbreviation: Wikipedia.

  11. I could have sworn haiku was Japanese.

    Other than that, nice going Chinese dissidents.

  12. 34 to 57 million is chink change in a place like China with 1.3 billion. That’s less than 4%. Hey, let’s face it, you get economies of scale even when you’re mass murdering.

  13. I think, like, 99% of Indian abortions are female.

  14. Jaguar Shark

    First, the upper and lower bounds are 14 million and 43 million respectively. The former being the official government figure and the latter being the highest unofficial estimate.

    Second, this was in 1958-61. The population at the time was more like 700 million then.

    As for “chunk change”, would you consider a proporitionate death toll in the US – 6 to 19 million, based on the current US population of 300 million – to be “chunk change?”

  15. How clever of them.
    The Chinese can speak their minds
    Until they see tanks.

    That’s because…

    After they see tanks
    Minds they will have no longer –
    Crushed skulls hold few thoughts.

  16. As for “chunk change”,

    Uh, Aresen? Jaguar Shark wrote chink change. I may be wrong, but I don’t think it was a typo or a misspelling.

  17. smartass sob

    I assumed there was a typo. The comment stank bad enough even the way I chose to interpret it.

  18. Good to see that Reason has the China beat covered.

    Meanwhile, back here at the ranch, someone sent a teabag to his Congressman and got a threat in reply.

    There’s two things Reason can avoid discussing in this case:
    1. People shouldn’t be threatened over lawful protest, no matter how incredibly stupid.
    2. There are certain idiots out there who are encouraging people to do incredibly stupid things like send tea bags, hold “tea parties”, and so on rather than encouraging people to ask politicians real questions.

    I look forward to Reason not making either point.

  19. …rather than encouraging people to ask politicians real questions.

    And just suppose said politicians don’t care to hear said questions – let alone answer them? Then what? You can ask them all the damned questions you like and make all the protests you wish, but….they will still do pretty much as they damned well please. Or haven’t you ever noticed that? Why else would they “let” us have the freedom of speech?

  20. Good Call smartass sob,

    My comments were complete with racial slur (in pun form in the spirit of the Chinese protesters), completely inaccurate statistically (as if 4% would be okay with any decent human) and obviously dry humor (please! economies of scale on mass-murdering?)

    Do you know what a Jaguar Shark is?

  21. I am in no way sending a tea bag given the obvious sexual innuendo. Instead I have uploaded the following video to youtube which will certainly get at least a million hits.


  22. The rather classically liberal folks at Language Log did a pretty good post about this recently; if you’re a linguistics nerd, you can read the comments section where some really detailed explanations of the various hanzi involved as well as some incomprehensible replies by native Chinese speakers. Cheers.

  23. Do you know what a Jaguar Shark is?


  24. A Jaguar Shark was a mythical shark from the film “A Life Aquatic”, nothing you’d ever want to waste your time seeing except the acoustic covers of Bowie songs in Portuguese were pretty damn good.

  25. Man, these Chinese folks are literally risking their lives by dissenting in fun form, and we yanks can’t even get LoneWhacko to ask a politician tough questions on his own damn time and stop bothering us. We sirs, suck.

  26. Woo-hoo! Go cool Chinese people! Fuck the Chinese government!

  27. …Fuck the Chinese government right in that horse cunt.


  29. The water crabs will have the grass mud horses made an example of 🙁

  30. Water crabs boiled live,
    Served with drawn lemon butter –
    Such a delicate delight!

  31. Why would you draw butter?

  32. Why would you draw butter?

    Why, to dip the crabmeat in. In the culinary arts (and better restaurants) “drawn” butter means melted butter. It’s delicious with crab or lobster. 😉

  33. There are certain idiots out there who are encouraging people to do incredibly stupid things…

    Who’s encouraging you?

  34. Where are all of the rabid freedom of speech supporters on this?

    I understand that reason has been consistently on the side of true free speech most of its existance. I wonder about the others, like the Politically Correct Speech Code posse on western college campuses?

  35. Donkey-Raping Assfuckers is now the politically correct name for members of the US Congress.

  36. With many new announcement about the wizard of oz movies in the news, you might want to consider starting to obtain Wizard of Oz book series either as collectible or investment at RareOzBooks.com.

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