Videos of this mythical creature (in most videos it's simply a llama) have become incredibly popular in China and everyone from intellectuals to artists are discussing the subject and making their own tributes.
So what gives? Why is anyone enthralled by a horse-like, llama-wannabe? And, why is it muddy?
You see, in Mandarin Chinese, grass-mud horse (草泥马) is pronounced almost exactly the same as the phrase, "Fuck your mother!"
Think of the words "sea" and "see" in English. They're pronounced the same, but they have totally different meanings and spellings. In Mandarin, grass-mud horse sounds similar to the foulest of curses when uttered aloud, but it's actual meaning, and the characters used to write it, are benign.
Because Chinese is a tonal language, there are countless chances to mess up the meaning of a word simply by changing the tone at which it is pronounced. In fact, there are whole comedy routines, known as cross-talk, built around this fact. It's like Abott and Costello's "Who's on first?" routine, except in Chinese.
But, the grass-mud horse hasn't become a phenomenon solely due to it's comedic value. Like most great comedy, this joke has an edge.
According to the NY 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."Subversion and llamas all in one? Well done Chinese Internet crawlers!
"Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, said that the grass-mud horse is an icon of resistance to censorship."
Want to bypass web censors? Easy! Just hide behind cute animals, singing and dancing!
The infectious music of the grass-mud song actually comes from the Chinese version of the Smurfs!
If any of this seems familiar, maybe it's because you've heard the latest Britney Spears' song in which she pulls the exact same shenanigans! The song is officially titled "If you seek Amy," but Spears, the confused little trollop she is, pronounces the line so that it sounds like, "F-U-C-K me!"
I wonder if she learned this trickery from the Chinese?