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March 11, 2009


‘Innocent’ ditty pokes fun at Net crackdown; Childish ‘grass-mud horse’ song lampoons official censors

Ng Tze-wei — South China Morning Post , March 6, 2009 Friday

In the harsh but beautiful desert of Ma Le Go Bi, a special herd of alpaca sheep known as caonima (grass-mud horse), lived happily. But their happiness is fading.

Their habitat has come under threat lately because of a sudden migration of river crabs. But the brave caonima are resilient and intelligent, and they are fighting back - through the mainland internet.

For readers hurriedly flipping through the pages of Index to the Animal World, this tale of survival is not a real ecological crisis, but rather a creation of smart mainland netizens who have turned the government’s sweeping internet crackdown into a national laughing stock. And it all started with an innocent-sounding little song.

The song of the caonima’s epic struggle with the river crabs has become such a popular hit on the mainland that toy shops have started to sell caonima dolls.

Almost everyone, except the authorities, knows this is a dig at the mainland’s internet censorship. The word for river crabs, hexie in Putonghua, sounds almost the same as “harmony” - the central theme of President Hu Jintao’s governing philosophy. It has lately become a euphemism for government censorship.

Caonima is pronounced like an unprintable slang phrase people use to show their anger and frustration. The innocent-seeming song turns out to be not what the internet censors think it is, and netizens, angered by the internet crackdown launched late last year, have adopted it.

By the end of last month, nearly 3,000 websites and about 270 blogs had been closed down. While the authorities say the crackdown is to cleanse mainland websites of “vulgar and pornographic” materials, many liberal or anti-establishment sites or blogs have also been targeted, including the well-known Bullog.com and many current affairs discussion groups carried on Douban.com.

The crackdown soon sparked anger, with many saying it was actually a drive to control freedom of speech in a year of sensitive anniversaries.

Using homonyms, or words of similar pronunciation, to bypass the great firewall of China is not new. But none of the previous attempts has achieved such widespread success as the cute little ditty about caonima.

The Song of Caonima, sung by angelic children’s voices, had registered more than 1.2 million hits on YouTube alone by yesterday.

Since January, when it first appeared on the internet, the song has quickly gathered a large following. It soon branched out into many different forms as netizens poked fun at the clueless “river crabs”.

In one episode, the caonima galloped around freely before the river crabs showed up. Then the crabs, equipped with ultra-hard shells, arrive and ruthlessly pulled up every single blade of grass they come across. The Caoni people, who herd the grass-mud horses, sing in a sad melody that they “used to sell horses, but now have to slash purses”.

The mainland media have played their part in spreading the popularity of the caonima.

The Southern Metropolis Daily printed a story yesterday detailing how two grass-mud horse toys had become hot items on the mainland. Called Ma Le and Go Bi, they were designed by five Guangdong youngsters and sell for 40 yuan ($45HK) apiece.

Ma Le Go Bi sounds like another crude slang phrase.




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