Posted by Joel Martinsen on Wednesday, February 11, 2009 at 11:28 AM
Meet the Grass Mud Horse (草泥马), a rare animal that has become phenomenally popular in the past month.
The animal, whose name sounds like a common curse (操你妈), is the most famous of the Ten Legendary Beasts of Baidu, non-existent animals that were inserted into Baidu's user-editable encyclopedia. Although the majority are juvenile puns for curse words or genitalia, the collective editing process did manage to come up with a few clever descriptions.
Here are the rest:
The Dafei Chicken (达菲鸡): A strange bird that likes exercise. (打飞机, slang for "masturbate")
The Chrysanthemum Silkworm (菊花蚕): A silkwork that feeds on chrysanthemum flowers instead of mulberry leaves. (菊花残, an insult that means something like "bugger")
The Midge Butterfly (雅蠛蝶): An exceedingly rare creature only found on the Tibetan plateau. (From やめて, Japanese for "stop it"; via imported porn)
The Weishen Whale (尾申鲸): During his maritime adventures, Zheng He discovered this creature was hunted as the raw materials for women's underpants. (卫生巾, "sanitary napkin")
The Jiba Cat (吉跋猫): A creature that lives in a dark, damp environment and competes for food with the White Tiger. According to historical records, the Jiba Cat flourished during the reign of the Zhengde Emperor. (鸡巴毛, slang for "pubic hair")
The Qianlie Crab (潜烈蟹): A legendary crab that once stopped up the Grand Canal. (From 前列腺, "prostate")
The Crying Paddy Goose (吟稻雁): In the Kangxi era, a large goose dove into a certain field, damaging it and causing the local farmers to come down with a strange sickness. (From 阴道炎, "vaginitis")
The Franco-Croatian Squid (法克鱿, scientific name "Vai-te Foder"): A fierce species of squid originally inhabiting Europe and the Americas. (From the English-language curse "Fuck you")
The Puremen (鹑鸽): A rare bird found only in Sichuan and Hunan; formerly found in the area that is now the Republic of Yemen. (From 春哥, a nickname used for Super Girl winner Li Yuchun among fans who claim, whether sincerely or ironically, that she's a man. Their catchphrase is 春哥纯爷们, "Brother Chun is all man", which is where Yemen comes in)
And finally, in a nod to the editors of the encyclopedia, there's the Stork-Cat Ape (鹳狸猿) that inhabits Baidu County in Lanzhou. This entry pokes fun at Baidu administrators (管理员) who continually spar with the online pranksters and who ultimately deleted all of these entries.
Although the Ten Legendary Beasts have been wiped from Baidu, the Grass Mud Horse lives on in Photoshopped images (the cute cousin to the Alpaca turned up at the CCTV fire) and videos.
Here's the "Song of the Grass Mud Horse," a spot-on parody of a contemporary children's songs:
Another clever parody uses the familiar format of Animal World (动物世界), a popular CCTV program, to introduce the Grass Dirt Horse and its habitat.
But fun with Baidupedia is not entirely about dirty words. For a different level of satire, check out the now-deleted entry for revolutionary hero Wei Guangzheng (伟光正, taken from 伟大, 光荣, 正确, "great, glorious, correct"):
Comrade Wei Guangzheng is a superior product of natural selection. In the course of competition for survival, because of certain unmatched qualities of his genetic makeup, he has a great ability to survive and reproduce, and hence Wei Guangzheng represents the most advanced state of species evolution.
Here is the evolution of Wei Guangzheng's thinking: Since the day of his birth, comrade Wei Guangzheng established a guiding ideology for the people's benefit, and in the course of connecting it with the real circumstances of his beloved Sun Kingdom, a process of repeated comparisons that involved the twists and turns of campaigns of encirclement and suppression, his ideology finally realized a historic leap forward and generated two major theoretic achievements. The first great theoretic leap was the idea of leading a handful of people to take up arms to cause trouble, rebellion, and revolution in order to build a brave new world, and to successfully seize power. This was the "spear ideology." The second great theoretic leap was a theory, with Sun Kingdom characteristics, in which Wei Guangzheng was unswervingly upheld as leader and the people were forever prevented from standing up. This was the "shield theory." Under the guidance of these two great theoretic achievements, comrade Wei Guangzheng won victory after victory. Practice has proven, "Without Wei Guangzheng, there would be no Sun Kingdom." Following the road of comrade Wei Guangzheng was the choice of the people of the Sun Kingdom and an inevitable trend of historical development.
Comrade Wei Guangzheng endured a bitter struggle for survival. In his struggles with natural conditions, he climbed mountains and trudged through plains, expressing with an iron will a legendary story of pathos that continues to impress his posterity. In struggles with heterogeneous individuals, he engaged in a long-term fight with the reactionary government of the time and was ultimately triumphant. In his struggles with individuals in his own group, he cast out the cow devils and snake spirits that organized internal reactionary activity, and dealt them harsh punishment. This is the reason why comrade Wei Guangzheng could continue to survive: he fit perfectly with the three main factors of natural selection.
In the harmonious environment that comrade Wei Guangzheng himself constructed, mates were plentiful and there were no natural enemies, so Wei Guangzhengs could multiply quickly. Their numbers swiftly increased. Today, Wei Guangzhengs inherit the advantages of their Wei Guangzheng ancestors, and also attempt various innovations. For example, many Wei Guangzhengs use their unmatched power to amass money, setting records that are continually broken. Of course, evolutionary principles mean that there is also mutation, as when, following his leadership of a handful of people to take up arms to cause trouble, rebellion, and revolution and to seize power, Wei Guangzheng began to detest "a handful of people"....
The reason for this mutation may be due to errors in genetic transmission during the period of the second leap of Wei Guangzheng Thought. It is said that mutation frequently causes cells to function improperly or even die, or could lead to cancer. Yet at the same time, mutation is a motivating factor for the evolution of species: sudden changes that are less than ideal will be naturally discarded, while beneficial changes will accumulate. In this way, we see that mutations directly affect the evolutionary direction of Wei Guangzheng.
Update: Our friends from the World of Warcraft boards on Baidu's BBS have stopped by for a visit (草泥马被国外知名媒体报道 WOW吧名扬海外了).
Update (2009.03.13): Language Log has posted on the phenomenon, and one comment presents an interesting account of the genesis of these creatures:
The history of GMH, or the Grass Mud Horse, is longer than most people had realized. It is even difficult to identify where it had particularly originated from. One thing is certain, though, that GMH did have a close relationship with the Spartan culture (a sort of Chinese online subculture), which based on a series of smart photoshopped parody comic owning genesis to the Hollywood blockbuster The 300 Spartans, 2005. The actor Vincent Regan as Captain in the movie made out an exaggeratingly roaring sound with the exact likeness of lip movements as a Chinese curse word "WoCao" carrying the meaning close to "fuck". The funny thing is "WoCao" can also be written as 卧槽, a technical term in Chinese chess game. Some Internet users discovered this and soon mass volumes of gif animations subtitled 卧槽 capturing the scene from the movie, began to prevail in major Chinese bbs's (i.e. Baidu, mop).
The Eurasian Face: Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.