Chinese web users are demonstrating their ability to get around the automatic internet censorship of taboo words with a hilarious song about a battle between grass-mud horses ("fuck your mother") and river crabs (censors). The song has become so popular that grass-mud horse toys are being sold in shops and even intellectuals are using the fable as a metaphor for the subject.

The lyrics might appear crude and childish, but in fact they're very clever. The choice of creatures makes more sense if you speak the language. "Grass-mud horse" (Cao Ni Ma) sounds distinctly like "fuck your mother" in spoken Chinese, and "river crab" like "harmony", referring to the government's' "Harmonious Society" scheme which includes heavy censorship. It doesn't take much imagination to get who the "lively, intelligent and tenacious" grass-mud horses are and who the defeated river crabs are.

The song is not only entertaining but also demonstrates a method of getting around internet censorship. Search for an obscene or politically sensitive word on a computer in China, and it's likely that you'll get an "error" page in response. If you try to type in a swear word on Skype or messenger, hit return and it simply doesn't display. Web users have developed quite a depth of puns in getting around this, and Ca Ni Ma is a brilliant example.

The video emerged online at the beginning of this year. The images (which are of alpacas) come from a British advertisement from MasterCard and Oxfam. 

Grass-mud horses going into battle

Posted by "1racyWad3".

Buy a grass-mud horse online!

Teddy versions of the creature are being sold online by internet users for 49 CNY (around €5). 

The grass-mud horse "rap"…

Posted on YouTube by "niuroumian007".

"Chinese netizens (…) have started to play the role of social supervisors"

Wen Yunchao is a website project manager and specialist in internet issues from Guangzhou City (southeast China).

The video was sparked by a government campaign launched on January 5, which aims to eliminate all pornographic and vulgar content on the web. Lots of netizens fear that the government is actually using this as a pretext, so as to tighten controls on freedom of speech online. The video is made to ridicule the campaign and voice complaints. For the moment, it's been completely wiped off all Chinese websites; YouTube was blocked for two days after the video was featured on the front page.

There's no such thing as a ‘grass-mud horse'. The creature actually came into being several years ago along with several other ‘mythical creatures' created by Chinese web users in skirting taboo words online. Those creatures have names that sound like something else when spoken. There are also other ways to avoid censorship, such as using the so-called ‘Mars words', which are written like something else, using slightly different characters.

Personally, I don't think the government campaign is going to do much harm to our online community. Firstly, the community is still expanding, with the total number of netizens already surpassing 300 million - there are plenty enough to keep producing content if some forums or sites are shut down. Secondly, Chinese netizens are increasingly self-conscious of their own moral responsibilities nowadays, and have started to play the role of social supervisors, as seen in the ‘Hide and Seek affair'. Finally, internet technology is upgrading on a daily basis, so there's always a way to penetrate the internet blockade set by the government."

A forum with a page dedicated to the subject...