Grass Mud Horse Style

In my last blog post I mentioned viral videos, parodies, and Gangnam Style. And while there are many parodies of Psy’s video (which currently has 1.8 billion views in case any of you are wondering), here is a parody that I am guessing many of you have not seen…

That’s right — my man Ai Weiwei parodied Gangnam Style and took a shot at the Chinese government with what he calls “Grass Mud Horse Style.” Ai Weiwei posted this cover about a year ago, and even though Youtube is blocked in China, it was also posted on Chinese video-sharing sites like Tudou. It quickly spread and tens of thousands of people saw it before it was censored and deleted by the government. Today it has about a million views on Youtube, but these views are from people outside of the Great Firewall and most likely outside of China.

Grass Mud Horse?

Although this video is poorly made and pretty silly, it very creatively criticizes the Chinese government. Ai Weiwei did not title his video “Grass Mud Horse Style” because of the horse-galloping dance moves that go along with the song – he called it “Grass Mud Horse Style” to bash the government. A grass mud horse is an alpaca-like creature that was made up in the form of a meme by Chinese bloggers in 2009; in Chinese, it sounds very similar to the phrase “f*** your mother” and has become a way for dissenter-bloggers to mock Chinese censorship on the web. It has become a symbolic meme and phrase in China, as well as one that is now heavily censored by the government.

Ai Weiwei has incorporated the grass mud horse into his other works too. He recorded and posted a video of himself singing along to the Chinese viral video of children singing about these mythical alpacas (if you search for this video the English subtitles are likely to be inappropriate). He also shot a nude photo of himself covering his groin area with a grass mud horse plushie doll. And with his Gangnam Style cover, he uses the grass mud horse in his title to point out the absurdity of Chinese government censorship.

Ai Weiwei posing with a grass mud horse plushie

Ai Weiwei posing with a grass mud horse plush doll


At 0:55 in the video, Ai Weiwei further insults the government and pulls handcuffs out of his pocket. He told the NY Times:

Handcuffs have recently become very familiar, almost daily objects; they should belong to law enforcement but in many many cases in China people are arrested or taken away without any formal charge.

These handcuffs not only symbolize Weiwei’s arrest and time in jail, but also the many unjust arrests that happen in China everyday. Weiwei swinging around these handcuffs is his way of pointing out the local government’s abuse of power.

Ai Weiwei does Gangnam Style


Despite China taking the video down, there has been a lot of talk about the Ai Weiwei Gangnam Style spoof. It got me thinking about other political parody song covers that have spread like wildfire on Youtube. Mitt Romney Style by CollegeHumor racked up 50 million views and the government shutdown/Miley Cyrus parody We Did Stop quickly went viral on Youtube after it aired on SNL; both of these videos satirically cover famous songs, but more importantly the music videos of these songs both went viral on Youtube.

Without a doubt both of these videos would have been censored in China, but in the US these videos, and many others like them, have gone viral. Is parodying a viral music video is an effective way to get your political criticisms out? Is it a good way to bring about change and get conversations started?

Ai Weiwei believes so, but he also hopes that these conversations can come about before they are cut off short on the internet.


  1. Woah, talk about some controversial stuff. You’re right–I had never seen this parody before, and I’m impressed by Ai Weiwei’s ability to portray such a political message so creatively (despite the crude production quality). I tried to find some other great political parodies to compare to the latest “We Did Stop” video you mentioned, but all I could think of was how well SNL pulls off political parody.

    For my friends and I in high school, SNL’s sassy skits were actually a news source of sorts, telling us which events were particularly relevant/controversial at any given time. Of course, reading the NY Times would’ve been smarter, but humor is not only an effective way to make a message go viral…it’s a vehicle for informing an audience, and that’s what makes Ai Weiwei’s seemingly crazy-looking music video so powerful.

    Can anyone think of an example where political satire went “too far”?

  2. Hi Sydney, really interesting post! I am really becoming more interested in Ai WeiWei the more you have been talking about him. I think it is really great he made this video despite the censorship in China. It helps spread awareness to countries like the United States that don’t experience it to that extent.

    I think that parodies are a great way to spread your political criticisms. To Krisintie’s point, I definitely think that SNL does a great job in that regard. Tina Fey’s parody of Sara Palin, I would argue, definitely affected the outcome of the election. Being able to open people’s eyes to these opposing ideas, while still maintaining a comedic presence, is a great skill and important tool to use.

  3. Well, Sydney Ai Weiwei is certainly creative in his strategies. I wonder though, what is his ultimate goal? To end government censorship in China? Does he hope for a revolution? As Kristie said, I think the more outlandish things he can think of will get his point across. Kristie, in terms of political satire that has gone too far in the U.S., I honestly cannot think of anything. While I agree with Erica Tina Fey’s portrayal of Sarah Palin may have impacted the election, I also think SNL does a fantastic job of making fun of both parties and not pushing a political agenda. They know how to make it funny without being offensive, which is why their still so popular as a source for political comedy.

  4. Like others have said before me, I agree that the media has a commanding ability to influence our perceptions, especially with public satire. Kathryn and Erica both mentioned Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, and I also agree that it influences the public perceptions of politics. Something unique to social media though is the ability to share this directly with our friends. I have a few friends from high school who often share posts favoring one political party, but some of this information contains little heard facts. For instance, one of the most frequent posts I notice is one showing the amount the public debt has raised during Obama’s presidency compared to all other presidents combined. Though there are reasons behind this, social media has the power to educate an audience even when the mainstream news stations do not highlight these stories.

    I do begin to question whether major political statements should be voiced on social media, but there are benefits to this environment. Social media allows a community to openly discuss political topics, and this can be beneficial with other parties constantly remaining in check. In this open environment, it can create an innovative atmosphere that is looking for progress. However, I do believe social media can create a hostile environment if the community isn’t willing to be open-minded when discussing new ideas. I do believe any censorship would be a detriment to the community because it won’t allow for a progression of ideas, and instead forces the community to stagnate without progress.

  5. Sydney – I’m really happy that you did a follow-up post on Ai Weiwei, because I had no clue who he was before your presentation, and like Erica, I’m now really interested in his story, and everything that you’ve been posting about him. It’s funny because the more you talk about him, the more I think that anything he does would lead to an arrest. So, although this video may have low production quality simply because of the available resources, I do think that there is a hidden message of, “Look, I’m not being outright in my criticism of the government, but I’m sure you’ll still put me in handcuffs.” I do appreciate the satire of the video, but I probably would not have understood most of it without your descriptions (which I think is what differentiates Ai Weiwei the most from American satirical videos).

    To answer the questions you posed: Although I do think that covering songs can be a clever way to get your message out, I’m not sure that many people can do this effectively. SNL has the benefit of dozens of screenwriters and editors, whereas people like Ai Weiwei are completely on their own to create and write their covers. So yes, I think they can be useful, but I don’t think that many are effective.

  6. Actually, that’s a very interesting point. Next week, when we discuss the Chris Brown wedding video, we’ll talk about how someone tried to engineer a viral video in just that way.

  7. Rob- I’m going to have to disagree. I think social media is the perfect place to make political statements. Especially in countries like China where it may be the only platform available to activists like Ai Weiwei. I find him to be a fascinating person– Sydney after your presentation I began following him on Instagram and Twitter. Even though he puts up a lot of pictures of his cat, there’s usually a stronger social message that accompanies the post. I think this is a great example of how social media can begin to break into the political sphere!

    We don’t need to restrict ourselves to posting about trite and fluffy content on social media– just look at the Arab Spring and how that was propelled by online activity. This video is a perfect example of the marriage between fun and political content on social interfaces. Ai Weiwei has the potential to start the same kind of mainstream counter culture movement in China, and I’m really glad the I tuned in to watch it unfold. Thanks for that, Sydney!

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