China’s Internet lexicon: Symbolic meaning and commoditization of Grass Mud Horse in the harmonious society

Shaojung Sharon Wang


There is a long history of the Chinese concept of Internet regulation, which emphasizes stability and unity for a harmonious society and strong technical control. “Grass Mud Horse” (草泥马), a vulgar expression similar to an obscene curse word, has, since early 2009, been used by the country’s Internet users as a political parody in response to their government’s campaign of building a harmonious socialist society. “Grass Mud Horse” has later been fashioned into the name of a storybook character, and has spawned music videos and faux documentaries. Its themed merchandise, such as plush toys, is being sold over the Internet. This study sets out to examine the transformation of “Grass Mud Horse” into the mass production of cultural goods created and disseminated through the Internet. It argues that the exchange values of “Grass Mud Horse” represent the equivalent relation between commodities, symbols, and popular culture. While “Grass Mud Horse” has been commoditized by the increasing usage of popular culture; this is also the system of mass production and the homogenizing regime of capital, which produces mass desires, tastes, and behavior rather than valid social movements.


Symbolic interaction; China Internet; Grass Mud Horse; Cultural Product

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