Thirteen Five

The “China watcher” corner of The Internet nearly ground to a halt on Monday night and Tuesday after Xinhua, China’s official news agency posted this bizarre video to YouTube.

It’s a video designed to promote the upcoming release of the the government’s five-year economic plan (yes, China is still socialist enough that they do this), the 13th such plan since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. Shi san wu (十三五 ) — 13.5 — is a short hand reference, and apparently one that lends itself to a catchy rhyme.

In case you’re wondering about the significance of the five-year plan, here’s what The Economist has to say about it:

“In the era of Mao Zedong, China’s five-year plans were strictly implemented. The Communist Party set specific production quotas — for instance, for steel and grain — that work units had to meet. This central direction and, often, misdirection squandered resources to disastrous effect, leaving much of the country impoverished. In the 1980’s as the government loosened its grip on the economy, it also became a bit more relaxed about the five-year plans. Rather than rigid agendas, they have become more like rough guides to how leaders want to steer the country.

The five-year plans are no longer just economic in focus. Much attention is also given to environmental protection (there are targets for cutting carbon emissions and curbing energy use) and to social programmes such as health insurance. In the absence of democracy, the five-year plans are the closest thing to an election manifesto for the Communist Party, laying out its longer-term priorities. But since the party still has overwhelming power, the plans carry more weight than ordinary manifestos. All major actors — local officials, banks, and big companies, both state-owned and private — change their strategies and their rhetoric to look like they are in line with the plans.”

And as for the video itself, it’s not something that you can un-see, and for that I offer my apologies!