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Rachel Lu

What’s What on Weibo, China’s Twitter — The Mascots

The Grass Mud Horse in the Imperial City

After What’s What on Weibo — The Lay of the Land and What’s What on Weibo — The Main Characters, Tea Leaf Nation brings you two social media classics: The River Crab and the Grass Mud Horse.

河蟹 (he xie) = River Crab = Mascot of censorship

Netizens invented this large crustacean meanie, whose name is a homonym for harmony, as a symbol of the Chinese government’s attempts to hide social ills by censoring their discussion. Building a “harmonious society” has been the ostensible goal of the Chinese government since 2004, but censorship may have worsened during this span. Be warned that the River Crab may pinch you if you push the envelope of free speech in China.

草泥马 (cao ni ma) = Grass Mud Horse = Mascot of grass-roots resistance to censorship

Netizens invented this cuddly alpaca look-alike as an expression of their anger and disgruntlement at the River Crab. Its very name is one of the worst insults in the Chinese language, unpronounceable in good company and “inharmonious” to the extreme. It is often summoned by netizens to irk the River Crab and express their frustration.

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Rachel Lu

Rachel Lu is a co-founder of Tea Leaf Nation. Rachel traces her ancestry to Southern China. She spent much of her childhood memorizing Chinese poetry. After long stints in New York, New Haven and Cambridge, she has returned to China to bear witness to its great transformation. She is currently based in China.