In order to circumvent internet censorship in China, bloggers have created a lexicon which makes puns out of words and phrases in the Chinese language to talk about forbidden topics. It started with the 'grass-mud horse' – a mythical creature which sounds nearly the same as a dirty insult – as a tool to ridicule the government's blocking of vulgar content online. The grass-mud horse has achieved a personality, making its way into art, poetry and online videos, as well as inspiring an entire vocabulary of words. The Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon gives netizens a way to outsmart the government's sophisticated surveillance technology.
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There are several interesting dimensions to this tactic, which represents both a form of resistance to internet censorship and an attempt to provide a level of safety to internet users who may be reluctant to share their opinions online.
The approach uses culturally relevant symbols and mythical creatures to address contemporary human rights challenges. It also relies on humor to challenge the authorities’ censorship practices. The use of cultural resources and shared stories can be powerful tools to reducing fear and capturing attention.
Also, while the tactic relies specifically on unique features of the Chinese language, the broader idea of using coded language to defy internet censorship may be applicable to other contexts.