The grass mud horse, and other legendary Chinese beasts

A quick follow on to my post from last week trying to summarize my friend Rebecca MacKinnon’s wide ranging and fascinating talk on Chinese internet culture.

One of the commenters on my blog – Tumshie – was kind enough to point out that the video used by Chinese activists to parody censorship laws by having children sing about alpacas… which actually meant singing “f*ck your mother… was an ad from Oxfam and Mastercard. In the version above (after an ad… sorry), alpacas prance to music celebrating their beauty, and then we’re told that buying an alpaca for a poor family for £20 is “priceless”. Good sleuthing, Tumshie – the video becomes even more surreal given the source material.

DaiWeiDaoism offers some insights on the insults put forth in the video, suggesting that given the importance of ancestors, the only swears that could be more offensive involve unlikely sexual acts with grandmothers or more distant ancestors. For more details on the actual text of the song sung in the video, China Digital Times offers an annotated translation:

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 Ma Le 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 Ma Le Desert

Those asterisks are useful – they lead to explanations of offensive puns in Chinese, as well as a free speech reference, the legendary “river crabs”, who are used as a slang reference to blogs being censored. (Really. It’s complicated.)

Indeed, now that we’ve got Grass Mud Horses – the literal translation of alpaca – and river crabs running around the Chinese blogosphere, Danwei offers a full bestiary of legendary Chinese animals, including the Dafei Chicken and the Jiba Cat. And no, I’m not going to explain any of these critters – just read Danwei.

And you thought Lolcats were hard to explain…

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