How A “Grass Mud Horse” Leapt Over China’s Great Internet Firewall

China’s imaginary animal that’s actually both a filthy play on words, and a symbol of internet freedom

image via (cc) flickr user andy-li

The barrier surrounding China’s state-run internet services is the stuff of legend: A multi-layered “great firewall” designed to exert near-total control over what goes in, and out, of that country’s computer networks. While China credits its restrictions on internet giants like Google and Twitter as having created the necessary vacuum in which that country’s own crop of tech juggernauts—web portals like Alibaba, and Baidu—could grow into the market successes they are today, the cumulative effect of China’s “great firewall” is that digital information is policed on a scale unlike anywhere else on Earth.

image via youtube screen capture

For years though, China’s internet censorship efforts have been subversively mocked by a set of imaginary animals, each with bizarre, but seemingly harmless names like “Chrysanthemum Silkworm” and “Franco-Croatian Squid.” While they may sound innocuous to most English speakers, in their native Chinese the names are puns, homophones, and in-jokes—often incredibly vulgar ones—meant to sneak past China’s sophisticated keyword filtering, and tweak the noses of those in charge of the state controlled internet services. Of all these animals, though, it’s the “Grass Mud Horse” that’s become synonymous with rebellion against China’s great firewall. This video, found and posted recently by programmer Craig Hockenberry after his website went down following what he theorizes was a Chinese hack attack, is a helpful primer on both the great firewall, and Grass Mud Horse. Watch ‘til the end...

Since springing to life in 2009 (with, as one internet commenter points out, possible roots reaching as far back as 2005) Grass Mud Horse has become a full-blown phenomenon. It has its own theme song [NSFW Chinese lyrics and English subtitles]:

And even a celebrity endorsement, of sorts, in the form of acclaimed artist and Chinese activist Ai WeiWei [again, lyrics in both Chinese and English are NSFW]:

Of course, since becoming a phenomenon, Grass Mud Horse and his equally offensive friends have probably lost a bit of their subversive edge, to say nothing of their digital-censor-dodging abilities. Still, among those advocating for a more open internet, Grass Mud Horse is a wonderfully impolite and wildly creative symbol that, for a time, managed to leap all the way over even the great firewall of China.

NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less

Climate change means our future is uncertain, but in the meantime, it's telling us a lot about our past. The Earth's glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, but as the ice dwindles, ancient artifacts are being uncovered. The Secrets of the Ice project has been surveying the glaciers on Norway's highest mountains in Oppland since 2011. They have found a slew of treasures, frozen in time and ice, making glacier archeologists, as Lars Pilø, co-director of Secrets of the Ice, put it when talking to CNN, the "unlikely beneficiaries of global warming."

Instead of digging, glacier archeologists survey the areas of melting ice, seeing which artifacts have been revealed by the thaw. "It's a very different world from regular archaeological sites," Pilø told National Geographic. "It's really rewarding work.

Keep Reading Show less

When former Pittsburgh Steelers' center Mike Webster committed suicide in 2002, his death began to raise awareness of the brain damage experienced by NFL football players. A 2017 study found that 99% of deceased NFL players had a degenerative brain disease known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Only one out of 111 former football players had no sign of CTE. It turns out, some of the risks of traumatic brain injury experienced by heavily padded adults playing at a professional level also exist for kids with developing brains playing at a recreational level. The dangers might not be as intense as what the adults go through, but it can have some major life-long consequences.

A new PSA put out by the Concussion Legacy Foundation raises awareness of the dangers of tackle football on developing brains, comparing it to smoking. "Tackle football is like smoking. The younger I start, the longer I am exposed to danger. You wouldn't let me smoke. When should I start tackling?" a child's voice can be heard saying in the PSA as a mother lights up a cigarette for her young son.

Keep Reading Show less
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

On Tuesday morning, President Trump tweeted about some favorable economic numbers, claiming that annual household income is up, unemployment is low, and housing prices are high.

Now, just imagine how much better those numbers would be if the country wasn't mired in an economy-killing trade war with China, bleeding out trillion-dollar-a-year debts, and didn't suffer from chaotic leadership in the Oval Office?

At the end of tweet, came an odd sentence, "Impeach the Pres."

Keep Reading Show less

October is domestic violence awareness month and when most people think of domestic violence, they imagine mostly female victims. However, abuse of men happens as well – in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. But some are taking it upon themselves to change all that.

Keep Reading Show less