Fighting for basic human rights is always a good thing. Marry that fight with humor and a cleverness that borders on genius and you may just create a phenomenon.
The NY Times published an article yesterday by Michael Wines titled "A Dirty Pun Tweaks China’s Online Censors” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/12/world/asia/12beast.html?_r=2&hp that piqued my interest enough to find out some more about a Grass Mud Horse or Cao Ni Ma. By the way, do NOT say "Cao Ni Ma' around anyone who might speak or understand Mandarin unless they are in on the joke. Don't say I didn't warn you.
You see, Cao Ni Ma, phonetically pronounced Tsow Nee Mah, can mean two things. It can mean "Grass Mud Horse", or it can mean "F*** your mother". The point of this is that the Chinese government, which has been censoring internet content available to its citizens since the world wide web came into being, has recently embarked on what it calls a "anti Smut campaign", an aggressive program designed to filter out all objectionable content. The Chinese have employed a lot of people power and processing power to accomplish this. All of that power, however, has its limits. One of those limits is that the software searches for the characters that represent bad words, but Mandarin, as my Chinese friends explain, has a lot of homophones. Saying "ma", for instance, can mean "horse", or it can mean "mother". The characters used to represent each meaning are different, thus the censors do not pick it up.
Some enterprising individual or individuals exploited this weakness and composed an entire storyline and song about a fictional animal "Grass Mud Horse", which in the video looks a lot like an Alpaca. As this article http://shanghaiist.com/2009/03/12/firewall_penetrated_trojan_grass_mu.php in Shanghaiist points out, the lyrics are a sharp attack on censorship in general and Chinese censorship in particular. The article in part says:
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.
The article also points out that the lyrics have the horses living in the Malegebi desert. This could mean the "Gobi" desert, or it could mean a desert called "Your mother's C***".
The attack on censorship is three-pronged. First, it is an 'in your face' message to the Chinese government that whatever method they employ to censor, it can be defeated raising the question whether any of this effort is worth it to stop the propagation of words and ideas. Second, it encourages the population of China to ridicule the government's efforts at censorship and join the opposition to it, and finally, it is an embarrassing (for the Chinese government) reminder to the rest of the world that China censors the contents of the internet that is available to its population.
By the way, did I mention video above? Oh yes, the creators of this story/lyric spent some time and effort and had the song recorded being performed by a children's chorus which adds to the mischievousness of the entire enterprise.
Click http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAqqN3a5OYg if the above video embed doesn't work. If you don't understand Mandarin, the video isn't going to be as much fun but be on the look out for the phrases "Cao Ni Ma", "Malegebi" and "He Xie" which can mean "River Crabs" or "Harmony". According to a source on YouTube, the full lyrics are:
There is a herd of Grass Mud Horses
In the wild and beautiful Ma Le Desert
They are lively and intelligent
they are fun-loving and nimble
They live freely in the MaLeGeBi Desert
They are courageous, tenacious, and overcome the difficult environment
Oh lying down Grass Mud Horse
Oh running wild Grass Mud Horse
They defeated river crabs in order to protect their grass land
River crabs forever disappeared from MaLeGeBi Desert
The video has been viewed over 1.4 Million times in a month. Let's hope the Chinese government recognizes the futility and inherent evil in any governmental censorship effort and opens up unfettered access to the internet for its citizens.