腦殘遊記 The Travelogue of Dr. Brain Damages

Installation view at Postmasters Gallery, New York, 2011


In response to increasingly pervasive and draconian online censorship in China, “The Travelogue of Dr. Brain Damages” examines the role of Kuso culture (惡搞文化/ détournement) and its impact on Chinese internet.

The Chinese title 腦殘遊記 is a homophonic wordplay to 老殘遊記 (The Travels of Lao Can), a late Qing dynasty novel that fiercely attacks the injustices, corruptions and exposed the hypocrisy of government officials at the time. In an era that internet as a tool for both freedom and suppression, the project questions whether internet in China is an effective tool for social changes by adapting and remixing Chinese netizens meme languages with Western icons.



According to The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), as of December 2010, China has the highest numbers of internet users in the world totaling 457 millions, which account as only 34.3% of the country’s population.

Since 2002, online independent media and tabloids have played an important role in political discourse within Chinese society. Many Chinese intellectuals have used the Internet to discuss the possible evolution of Chinese politics.

With the soaring growth of internet users in recent years, Internet becomes the major platform for Chinese citizens in exposing corrupt officials scandals (most famously “我爸是李刚!” ((My Dad Is Li Gang!)) incident), discussing current events and commenting on government policies.

In response to the rise of internet freedom, the Chinese government escalates its effort to neutralize critical online opinion. China’s Internet censorship is regarded by many as the most pervasive and sophisticated in the world. According to a Harvard study, at least 18,000 websites are blocked from within the country.

The first major online censorship measurement is the “金盾工程” (Golden Shield Project) which started in 1998 and began operations in November 2003. Known in the Western world as “The Great Firewall of China”, the project aims to block content by preventing IP addresses from being routed through and consists of standard firewalls and proxy servers at the Internet gateways.

In 2005, see the beginning of “五毛党” (50 Cents Party). Officially designated as Internet commentators, “50 Cents Party” are people hired by the Chinese Government to post comments favorable towards the government policies to skew the public opinion on various Internet message boards. They operate on domestic websites, bulletin board systems, and chatrooms. Their role is to steer the discussion away from anti-party articulations, politically sensitive or “unacceptable” content and advance the party line of the Communist Party.

In 2009 comes another draconian censorship project- the “绿坝·花季护航” (Green Dam Youth Escort). Green Dam Youth Escort is content-control software for Microsoft Windows operating systems developed in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Originally under a directive from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) to take effect on 1 July 2009, it was to be mandatory to have either the software pre-installed, or have the setup files on an accompanying compact disc, for all new personal computers sold in mainland China, including those imported from abroad. However, because the proposed policy proved deeply unpopular, mandatory pre-installation has been delayed to an undetermined date. In response, Internet citizens have created a manga-style Moe anthropomorphism named “绿坝娘” (Green Dam Girl) to parody the pervasive policy.

Also in early 2009, another project namely “整治互联网低俗之风专项行动” (Correct Internet Vulgar Content Special Operation) is implemented by the authorities. As the title of the campaign suggested, more than 1911 websites that included vulgar languages and pornographic materials are ordered to shut down and performed self-censorship. Among the websites being accused of “vulgar” are the four biggest Chinese websites- Sina, Sohu, Baidu and Tencent, as well as foreign websites including Google and MSN. Chinese profane languages including “操你媽” (Fuck your Mother) are ordered to be removed entirely from the Chinese internet.

In response to the campaign, Chinese netizens invented “百度十大神兽” (The Baidu 10 Mythical Creatures). The internet meme initially began as a series of vandalized contributions to Baidu Baike (Chinese version of Wikipedia), through the creation of humorous articles describing a series of fictional creatures, with each animal with names vaguely referring to Chinese profanities (utilizing homophones and characters using different tones). The most notable one is 草泥马 “Grass Mud Horse” which share a similar pronunciation of 操你媽 (Fuck Your Mother). Almost overnight, Chinese internet users started substituting the profanities with the mythical creatures and a widespread internet meme phenomenon was born. Grass Mud Horse has since become the icon of citizens’ resistance to censorship.

In February 2011, inspired by and named after the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, anonymous call for a 中國茉莉花革命 (Chinese Jasmine Revolution) in China’s major cities was made online, first on the Boxun.com website, run by overseas dissidents, and then on Twitter. The initial call for protest began on 19 February 2011 when 12 to 13 cities were suggested. The Boxun.com appeal called for protests to take place each weekend, arguing that “sustained action will show the Chinese government that its people expect accountability and transparency that doesn’t exist under the current one-party system.”

In response to the Jasmine Revolution, world’s largest mobile phone operator China Mobile and state-owned China Unicom blocked the word “jasmine”. Searches for “jasmine” were also blocked on China’s largest microblog, Sina Weibo, and status updates with the word on Chinese social networking site Renren were met with an error message and a warning to refrain from postings with “political, sensitive … or other inappropriate content.”

Since the word “Jasmine” was forbidden in the Chinese blogosphere, millions of netizens used the term “兩會” (Two Conferences) instead, a widely used expression in the official news originally pointing to the two conferences “Fourth Session of the Eleventh National People’s Congress” and “Fourth Session of the Eleventh CPPCC” happening in March in Beijing.

Since late February, about 35 human rights activists and lawyers were arrested or detained by authorities, five people were charged with inciting subversion of state power, and up to 200 people are subject to reinforced supervision or house arrest. Among them are leading Sichuan human rights activist 陈卫 (Chen Wei), Tiananmen Square protest student leader 丁矛 (Ding Mao), well-known blogger 冉云飞 (Ran Yunfei), and 滕彪 (Teng Biao) of 公盟 (Open Constitution Initiative OCI).

The highest-profile arrest is Ai WeiWei, who was taken into police custody on 3 April in Beijing. In April, 2011, hackers attack online petition platform Change.org in the wake of a campaign calling for the release of Chinese artist and activist Ai WeiWei. The petition has attracted more than 130,000 signatures, including many from leading museums such as the Guggenheim, MoMA and Tate Modern.


To understand the symbols used in this project please visit ChinaDigitalTime.org and ChinaSmack.com for a detailed list of common Chinese-language internet terms, expressions, acronyms, or slang.


On the wall of the installation behind the framed works, the message “不翻长城非好汉” was written with bright red paint. The original Chinese quote is “不到长城非好汉” by Mao ZeDong meaning “If you fail to reach the Great Wall, you are not a true Real Man.” One character was changed and now it means “If you fail to leap over the Great FireWall of China, you are not a true Real Man.” The calligraphy style is a reminiscence of the “拆” (Demolish) and the utilitarian look of hand drawn “no parking” or “don’t spit” warning signs in the old neighborhoods within major Chinese cities.

The installation consists of 10 framed digital prints, a 6 minutes long HD video and a ping-pong table sculpture.


The works in the series is divided into two different categories and serves different purposes:

  1. Documentary and Social Commentary- The works in this category are meant to document and comment on the historical progress of Chinese internet censorship and its resistance.
  2. Testing the Water- The works in this category are meant to be distributed virally in Chinese’s internet realm, thus includes more Tongue-in-cheek Chinese wordplays that aims to generate responses.


“Ping Ping No Pong”

Mixed media sculpture
9ft x 5ft X 35 inches

A ping pong table with a cut out hole in the shape of “River Crab” on the Chinese side panel. “Great Firewall of China” as the net to to divide the two sides. Ping Pong ball symbolizes the exchange of information.


“After Maorilyn Maoroe got biatchslaped by flying hotdogs in Mahler Gobi desert, Grass Mud Horse invites her for a beer pong game…”

Digital Print on canvas in in a wooden frame
36 x 48 X 4 inches

Maorilyn Maoroe is hanging out with “草泥马” (Grass Mud Horse)- the icon of Chinese netizens’s resistance to censorship in China. She is not as tall as Grass Mud Horse so she had to stand on top of a Campbell soup can (homage to Andy Warhol) that says “蒜你狠豆你玩” (Vicious Garlic, Play with Beans). On her hand holds a ping-pong paddle with a YouTube logo and two made up Chinese characters combining components of other characters “五毛党中央” meaning “50 Cents party blocks the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China”.

While the “谷鸽” (Valley Dove) is resting on Grass Mud Horse’s head, a group of Chinese children appropriated from Cultural Revolution era poster is escorting a giant peach with words “马勒戈壁” (Mahler Gobi Desert) on it. One of them is holding 50 Cents Grass Mud Horse money, another is holding the Grass Mud Horse I.D. card, and the leader is waving a Chinese flag with symbols of “河蟹” (River Crab) on it.

In the background 李宇春 “春哥” (Li Yuchun) and her follower is standing on the Chinese Pavilion worshipping the Maorilyn while “卧槽泥马” (laying Grass Mud Horse) with an Afro and Hu JinTao is watching from inside a Baroque picture frame.


“Sichuan Style Red Braised Tofu-Dreg with River Crab”

Digital Print on canvas in in a wooden frame
36 x 48 X 4 inches

Behind the “Great Firewall of China”, “河蟹” (River Crab) controlled by “绿坝娘” (Green Dam Girl) is slow braised in a wok with “豆腐渣” (Tofu-Dreg) from the school rubble during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. While wearing “三个代表” (Three Represents)- Jiang Zemin’s signature ideological creation, one of its claw is squeezing Chinese artist Ai WeiWei.

Standing behind are the The Super Maorio Brothers- Maorio and Deng XiaoPing. Mairio is holding a baseball bat approved by the Pedo Bear.

On the “Great Firewall of China” (GFW) are graffiti of the followings: “我爸是李刚!” (My Dad is Li Gang!), “拆哪” (Demolish it!) and the logo of Beijing punk rock band 脑浊乐队 Brain Failure. In front of the GFW sits a Google map icon and a Five Crabs Chinese flag.

On the upper right a Chinese scroll banner with Mao’s calligraphy saying “为人民币服务” (Serve the Renminbi)- a parody of Mao Zedong’s famous exhortation to “serve the people.” The scroll is signed by a combined Chinese characters meaning “鸡巴屁民” (penis and fart people).


“French-Croatian Squid chewing Double Rubble”

Digital Print on canvas in in a wooden frame
36 x 48 X 4 inches

“法克鱿” (French-Croatian Squid) which pronounced in Mandarin is homophonic to “Fa Ke Yu or Fuck You” is chewing a bubblegum called “Dubble Rubble”. Inside the inflation are symbol of RMB, ginger, garlic and green peas. The French-Croatian Squid has a body wearing 中山装 Zhongshan suit (Mao Suit in the West). On the suit are painted graffiti of “拆” (demolish).
In the foreground is the Shanghai skyline, with two construction cranes lifting a Louis Vuitton and a Chanel handbags as construction materials. A billboard that depicts Deng XiaoPing with a pompadour along with the popular Chinese meme “神马都是浮云” is sitting behind the skyline. Yoda is seen as a “蜗居” (Snail Dwelling) with Chinese performance artist 梁克刚 as “房奴” (Mortgage Slave).


“Ai God is Catching Ghost”

Digital Print on canvas in in a wooden frame
36 x 48 X 4 inches

In this thangka, Chinese artist and activist Ai WeiWei is casted as “馬頭明王/馬頭觀音” (Hayagriva)- a representation of an angry Guan Yin in Chinese Buddhism. He is holding the following weapons with his six arms: An iPhone “Facing Time” with Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo, a Twitter bird, a Lightsaber, a Chinese calligraphy brush, a Scales of Justice and a laptop with “草泥马” (Grass Mud Horse) graphics on the screen.

The head of Grass Mud Horse is blocking the center of his crotch, echoing the artist’s work《草泥马挡中央,要保持高度一致哦》which convey the message “F*ck Your Mother, Party Central Committee!


“Justice Bao faces the Red Sun everyday”

Digital Print on canvas in in a wooden frame
36 x 48 X 4 inches

包拯 (Bao Zheng), the Song dynasty judge who is respected as the symbol of justice in China is holding a “Great Firewall” brand laptop with with the “河蟹社会,三个戴表” (River Crab Society, Three Wearing Watches) as the screen image.

On his Beijing Opera mask painted face one can find an “@” sign (symbolizes internet) wrapped around by the white moon shape (symbolize incorruptible/ justice). His mouth is gagged by a red cross and his eyes are replaced by two combined Chinese Characters “河蟹” (River Crab). On his hat is number “9413” which is homophonic in Chinese as “Nine out of ten will die. Only one will survive.”

On his uniform are three combined Chinese characters- “草泥马” (Grass Mud Horse), “腦殘” (Brain Damage) and “食屎” (Eat Feces).

In front of his feet is a empty Nobel Peace Prize award winners chair. Instead of 刘晓波 (Liu Xiaobo), a crab with sickle and hammer is occupying it. A boy with a face of a Grass Mud Horse is riding a giant Koi fish in the foreground.

Behind him hung a black plate with golden words stating “给力围观” (work extra hard to surround gaze). On the back left column in black embossed words states “天朝屁民” (Fart People of the Celestial Empire). On the right column says 牛逼蛇神 (cool snake gods), a pun of the infamous term 牛鬼蛇神- derogatory description of counter-revolutionary during the ten years Cultural Revolution in China.


“Masturbating in DaDaism style”

Digital Print on canvas in in a wooden frame
36 x 48 X 4 inches

达菲鸡 (“Intelligent Fragrant Chicken” (a homophone with 打飞机 Dǎ Fēi Jī, slang for masturbation while literally meaning “hit the airplane”) is seen here in DaDaism style, “hitting”  a “Green Dam Girl” airplane after successfully shot down a Google jet. There are three distinctively different female internet celebrities in this picture- riding the chicken is 罗玉凤 (凤姐) (Luo YuFeng) who first gained national attention in November 2009, after passing out flyers in Shanghai seeking a marriageable boyfriend with excessive requirements. On the lower right corner is 汤加丽 (Tang Jiali), a dancer and artist. She is the first woman to sell books of nude artistic photographs of herself. The third woman is 苍井空 (Sora Aoi), an immensely popular Japanese porn star whose fans start distributing software allowing them to bypass the “The Great Firewall of China” after her Twitter account was blocked. In the foreground is MaoDonald’s and Mao DMC. Other graphic elements included “Spunks Not Dead” a pun on punk band The Exploited’s album,  Keith Haring style baby graffiti with a chicken penis head, inside saying “啃德鸡巴” (Edible Penis)- a pun on the Chinese name of KFC Fried Chicken, Popular Chinese meme “贾君鹏,你妈妈喊你回家打飞机。” and “哥打的不是飞机,是寂寞。” and China paramount leader 胡锦涛 (Hu JinTao) PRC logo in KFC style.



Digital Print on canvas in in a wooden frame
36 x 48 X 4 inches

PokeMao is peacefully holding a Jasmine flower. In the background is Chairman Mao’s famous quote “革命无罪, 造反有理” (There is no crime to revolt, There is reason to rebel).

PART 2: Testing the Water





“小平您好, 您好开放!”
“Hello Deng XiaoPing, you are very open!”

HD video, single channel, color sound,
running time: 6:30 minutes

邓小平 (Deng XiaoPing), who served as the Paramount leader of the People’s Republic of China from 1978 to 1992, was generally credited with developing China into one of the fastest growing economies in the world for over 30 years and raising the standard of living of hundreds of millions of Chinese. He is considered “the architect” of a new brand of socialist thinking, having developed Socialism with Chinese characteristics and led Chinese economic reform through a synthesis of theories that became known as the “socialist market economy”. Deng opened China to foreign investment, the global market, and limited private competition. Deng enjoyed immense popularity in modern day China.

In “小平您好, 您好开放!”, Deng is casted as 34 different influential and iconic Western musicians along with the “Father of Chinese Rock” 崔健 (Cui Jian). Here are the Western musicians list in alphabetical order: Angus Young (AC/DC), Axl Rose (Guns n Roses), Beatles, Billie Holiday, Bob Marley, Bono, Bootsy Collins, Cher, David Bowie, Dee Snider (Twisted Sister), Dolly Parton, Elton John, Elvis Presley, Flava Flav (Public Enemy), Gene Simmons (Kiss), George Clinton (Parliament and Funkadelic), James Brown, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison (the Doors), Joe Strummer (The Clash), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Little Richard, Madonna, Marilyn Manson, Michael Jackson, Ramones, Ray Charles, Run DMC, Sid Vicious (Sex Pistol), Snoop Dog, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, and Willie Nelson.

The background music is a disco version of patriotic Chinese song “血染的风采” (Blood-stained Glory). Originally used to commemorate those who died during Sino-Vietnamese War, the song instead became popular for its commemoration of those who died during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

Below is the English translation of the lyrics:

Perhaps I’ll bid farewell and never to return, can you comprehend? Do you understand?
Perhaps I will fall and never to rise again. Do you still want to wait forever?
If it’s to be like this, don’t you be sad, the flag of the Republic has our blood-stained glory.
If it’s to be like this, don’t you be sad, the flag of the Republic has our blood-stained glory.

Perhaps my eyes will shut and never open again, will you understand my sunken emotions?
Perhaps I will sleep forever, never able to wake up. Will you believe that I have been transformed into mountains?
If it’s to be like this, don’t you be sad, the soil of the Republic contains the love we have given.
If it’s to be like this, don’t you be sad, the soil of the Republic contains the love we have given.

If it’s to be like this, don’t you be sad, the flag of the Republic has our blood-stained glory.
If it’s to be like this, don’t you be sad, the flag of the Republic has our blood-stained glory. Blood-stained Glory.



“Chinese Contradicted Patriot Wine”

Digital Print on canvas in in a wooden frame
36 x 48 X 4 inches

A pun on the Chinese iconic national liquor 茅台酒 (MouTai), the revised content of the 矛盾酒 (MouDun) consisted of the following messages in Chinese (follow by English translation):

  • 纯茉莉花酿制- Fermented and brewed by Pure Jasmine
  • 爱国度:  120% Vol- Level of Patriotism: 120% Vol
  • 净含量:  5000 Yrs- Content: 5000 Years
  • Ma de in China– “Ma de” is the Romanization for 妈的 which literally means “mother’s” and is short for “f**k your mother.” The term is roughly equivalent to “damn,” or “f**k” in English.
  • 神州天朝马勒戈壁市某山寨酒厂- 神州 (China), 天朝 (The Celestial Empire- an ancient name for China. Recently, netizens have used the term sarcastically to refer to China under the current government. Oftentimes the term is used to suggest that China’s leaders are self-important and have a China-centric view of the world.), 马勒戈壁 (The Mahler Gobi is the fictional home of the Grass-Mud Horse. In Chinese, “mǎ lè gē bì” sounds the same as “your mother’s f**ing cunt” (妈了个屄), 某山寨酒厂 (some imitation/ knock-off distillery)
  • 敏感瓷加倍过滤- 敏感瓷 (sensitive porcelain) sounds the same in Chinese as “sensitive words” (敏感词). “Sensitive words” in China are names of politicians, religious movements (like Falun Gong), events like (The thirty-fifth of May), and subversive online terms (like Grass-Mud Horse). 加倍过滤 means extreme distilled (filtered). The phrase means the sensitive words are being extremely filtered.
  • 不管红酒白酒,喝得醉的就是好酒 – A pun on Deng XiaoPing famous “Black Cat White Cat” quotation: “Whether the wine is red or white makes no difference. As long as it gets you drunk, it is a good wine.”



“Ai’s asshole is full of Chrysanthemums Semen”

Digital Print on canvas in in a wooden frame
36 x 48 X 4 inches

A pun on another iconic Chinese products 菊花精- a chrysanthemums extracts powder that can be dissolved with water into a healthy drink. Chrysanthemums also has a double meaning of “Anus” among Chinese netizens. The title is a pun of “滿城盡帶黃金甲” (Curse of the Golden Flower). The logo contains a graphic of Ai WeiWei behind bars. The brand name is 花蚕牌- which refer to one of Baidu mythical creatures 菊花蚕 (Chrysanthemum Silkworms). It is produced by 满肛红食品集团公司 (Bloody Anus Food Company); 满肛红 is a pun on 满江红 (All are Red in the River), a poem written by legendary Song Dynasty general and Chinese national hero 岳飞 (Yue Fei) who has evolved into the standard model of loyalty in Chinese culture.

On the side of the box says:

“This product is made with natural 光腚肿菊 (a pun on “广电总局” (The Radio Film and Television Administration) meaning “Bare-Bottomed Swollen Anus”. Everyday with deep feeling, bowed and swallow 3 to 4 cups of Chrysanthemums Semen will give great advantages after 临时性墙奸 (Temporary Rape by Great Firewall of China). Convenient to use, full with nutrients, bleach your face and anti-aging.”



“Leap Over the GFW Cigarette”

Digital Print on canvas in in a wooden frame
36 x 48 X 4 inches

Loosely based on the design of popular 中华 (Chung Hwa) cigarette brand in China, the new brand name 翻墙 meaning to “Leap Over the Great Firewall of China”. It is produced by 功夫网驰名商标出品 (“Kung Fu Net Famous Trademark”- In Chinese, the first letter of each word in “kung fu net” are GFW. GFW is an abbreviation of “The Great Firewall of China.” Thus the kung fu net is the internet as it exists after it has been kung fu-ed by the Chinese government.) The slogan of the cigarette is 纵横天朝 自由奔放 (Roam in “The Celestial Empire” with openness and freedom).

The side of the package contains the following Chinese message:


“Contains Melamine (the adulterant in 2008 Chinese Poison Milk Scandal), suitable to “Let the Leaders smoke first” a pun on “让领导先走” (In 1994, Karamay (克拉玛依), Xinjiang, a fire broke out in a theater in which 1000 children were watching a special variety performance. As the fire spread, a woman ordered loudly, “Everyone sit down. Don’t move. Let the leaders leave first!” (大家坐下,不要动,让领导先走). The fire resulted in 325 deaths, 288 of whom were children.

It has not been 自我审查 (Self Censored). Full bodied taste with great hand feel. After smoking the sky and ocean open up, and one can climb high and see very far away.

Let you passionately perform the followings:

  • 实事求是 “Seek Truth From Facts” (a historically established expression and a key element of Maoism, first quoted by Mao Zedong during a speech at the Sixth National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 1938, in reference to pragmatism. Beginning in 1978, it was further promoted by Deng Xiaoping as a central ideology of Socialism with Chinese characteristics, and applied to economic and political reforms thereafter.)
  • 开胸验肺 “Thoracotomy” (Open chest to inspect lungs) This medical procedure was immortalized in internet discourse after Zhang Haichao underwent the procedure to prove that he had lung cancer after spending two years petitioning the government. After an outpouring of online support, Zhang was awarded 615,000 RMB in workers compensation.
  • 布鸣真象 (Don’t understand the actual situation) has a similar pronunciation of 不明真相. This stock phrase is often used by Chinese government and official media to describe participants in “mass incidents” such as riots and protests. The phrase is controversial because it suggests that those who participant in mass incidents do so not because of any real grievances, but because they have been duped by a small number of those with “ulterior motives.”


Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon
Internet Censorship in China- Wikipedia
CNN Interview – The Grass -Mud Horse (Cao Ni Ma)
New York Times- A Dirty Pun Tweaks China’s Online Censors
Wall Street Journal- Internet Users Invent Ways to Outwit Beijing’s Censors
PBS.org- Online Censorship Grows in 2010, Showing Power of Netizens
Global times- Publish and be deleted
HerdictWeb- China Online Censorship data
Reporters Without Borders- China
OpenNet Initiative- China
Baidu 10 Mythical Creatures


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