Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fun with censors

Weapons of the weak.

A Dirty Pun Tweaks China’s Online Censorsl

"Since its first unheralded appearance in January on a Chinese Web page, the grass-mud horse has become nothing less than a phenomenon.

A grass-mud horse

"A YouTube children’s song about the beast has drawn nearly 1.4 million viewers. A grass-mud horse cartoon has logged a quarter million more views. A nature documentary on its habits attracted 180,000 more. Stores are selling grass-mud horse dolls. Chinese intellectuals are writing treatises on the grass-mud horse’s social importance. The story of the grass-mud horse’s struggle against the evil river crab has spread far and wide across the Chinese online community.

"Not bad for a mythical creature whose name, in Chinese, sounds very much like an especially vile obscenity. Which is precisely the point...

"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...

"China’s online population has always endured censorship, but the oversight increased markedly in December, after a pro-democracy movement led by highly regarded intellectuals, Charter 08, released an online petition calling for an end to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.

"Shortly afterward, government censors began a campaign, ostensibly against Internet pornography and other forms of deviance...

"So while 'grass-mud horse' sounds like a nasty curse in Chinese, its written Chinese characters are completely different, and its meaning —taken literally — is benign. Thus the beast not only has dodged censors’ computers, but has also eluded the government’s own ban on so-called offensive behavior...

"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...

"Tsinghua University sociologist Guo Yuhua, called the grass-mud horse allusions 'weapons of the weak' — the title of a book by the Yale political scientist James Scott describing how powerless peasants resisted dictatorial regimes...

"Shanghai blogger Uln already has an idea. Blogging tongue in cheek — or perhaps not — he recently suggested that online democracy advocates stop referring to Charter 08 by its name, and instead choose a different moniker. 'Wang,' perhaps. Wang is a ubiquitous surname, and weeding out the subversive Wangs from the harmless ones might melt circuits in even the censors’ most powerful computer."

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At 7:37 AM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

Censors Bar Mythical Creature

"China’s grass-mud horse, the mythical and popular Internet creature whose Chinese name sounds very much like an obscenity, is being put out to pasture by censors, the Web site Global Voices reported on Wednesday. A Chinese contributor to the site quoted a message from an Internet administrator to managers of online bulletin boards warning that 'any content related with Grass-Mud Horse should not be promoted and hyped' because 'the issue has been elevated to a political level.' It went on to say, 'The overseas media has exaggerated the incident as a confrontation between netizens and the government.'

The grass-mud horse first appeared on Chinese Web sites in January in the wake of a crackdown by the government on politically oriented Web sites. The mythical creature’s battles with the 'river crab,' which in Chinese sounds like slang for 'censorship,' have been popularized in YouTube videos and on Chinese chat sites. The order also said the grass-mud horse should not be associated with river crabs and other mythical creatures, many of whose Chinese names sound obscene."


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