China's censors are well trained and equipped to identify content that poses a potential challenge to the Chinese Communist Party's social and ideological control. We have consistently found that the most interesting stories are those which propaganda officials handpick to censor, but which Internet users feel compelled to discuss anyway, often using coded or cryptic language.
China's push for Internet sovereignty gained momentum abroad after Edward Snowden released information about U.S. National Security Agency surveillance programs. Capitalizing on the anti-U.S. sentiment in other authoritarian countries like Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, China wooed developing countries with growing online populations to consider the benefits of control of the Internet.
The success of the Internet in China over the past 20 years shows that successful foreign companies in China respect China's market environment and abide by China's law and regulations. U.S. companies operating in China show that those who respect the Chinese law can seize the opportunity of China' s Internet innovation and create immense value, while those who chose opposition stand will be isolated by themselves and finally abandoned by the Chinese market.
"Grass-mud horse" (cǎonímǎ 草泥马), which sounds nearly the same in Mandarin as an obscene curse, was originally coined to get around, and also poke fun at, government censorship. The idea caught fire instantly, completely transforming its symbolic meaning. Within weeks, the grass-mud horse became the de facto mascot of Chinese netizens fighting for free expression.