Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei goes “Gangnam Style” for political protest

 Ai’s parody video is both silly and subversive. It doesn’t mean anything at all and at the same time it means everything.


Kevin Morris


Published Oct 24, 2012   Updated Jun 2, 2021, 8:51 am CDT

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has jumped on the “Gangnam Style” bandwagon. But while your average college marching band or high-ranking Thai naval officer can only manage straight-up parodies of Psy’s mega hit, Ai makes it all his own. Solely thanks to the title.

This is “fuck your mother style,” he boasts—a message aimed square at the face of China’s censors from their harshest critic.

To be a little more specific, the literal translation of Ai’s video, which he posted just a few hours ago, is “grass mud horse style.” The Chinese language is tonal, meaning it has a whole bunch of homophones—words that sound the same but have a different meaning—which vary only slightly in tone. So grass mud horse (cao ni ma) sounds a heck of a lot like fuck your mother (cao ni ma). It’s probably the most famous example of how Chinese netizens alter their language to sneak past censors.

Ai has long been a harsh critic of China’s government, using both art and social media as platforms for his critiques. In 2009, he posed nearly nude for a photo, using only a toy alpaca to cover his genitals. The caption read “grass mud horse covering the middle.” But that was just a homophone for “fuck your mother, Communist Party Central Committee.”

The Communists weren’t quite amused with that photo or Ai’s other anti-government activities, however, such as his hard-nosed inquiries into school collapses during the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake, an event that left thousands of children dead. In 2011, the government held Ai for 81 days without charge. Then, shortly after his release, police threatened to charge him for real, this time with distributing pornography and bigamy, both of which Ai has called fabrications.

Like the term “grass mud horse” itself, Ai’s video is both silly and subversive. It doesn’t mean anything at all and at the same time it means everything. It’s sloppy nonsense but also an eminently sharable dig at the Communist Party itself.

It’s also just damn funny.

As one Chinese commenter on YouTube noted: “哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈. ”

In English, that’s “Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha.”

Photo via Ai Weiwei/YouTube

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*First Published: Oct 24, 2012, 2:35 pm CDT