Dirty Puns Mock Censorship

A sneaky little dig at the Chinese government’s pervasive censorship regime is gaining ground in China.  Seemingly-innocent videos about the mythical ‘grass-mud horse’ are attracting attention from people from all walks of Chinese life, and sending a message to the government that people care about freedom of speech and information.

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.

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.

Read the full article at NYTimes.com to see other linguistic tricks people may use to get around the censors: A Dirty Pun Tweaks China’s Online Censors.