In the past, propaganda about the Chinese Communist Party sometimes relied on stock photos of rice paddies, skyscrapers and the Great Wall, paired with a soaring voiceover. Or it used man-on-the street interviews with foreign exchange students to lavish praise on President Xi Jinping (not only "a wise and resolute president," but also "handsome, yeah, he is super charismatic.")
The new propaganda video that popped up Tuesday is a complete departure. To explain China's 13th Five-Year Plan, it uses a catchy music video with psychedelic animation reminiscent of Terry Gilliam's vintage animations for Monty Python. One shot includes the president's face, a pink disco ball and a VW bus. There's perhaps a touch of the "Dumb Ways to Die" cartoon aesthetic in there, too.
Here's one of the lyrics about the plan, which covers China's social and economic development:
"But who makes all the plans? There's government ministers and think tank minds. And Party leadership contributing finds. There's doctors, bankers and farmers too. And even engineers who deal with poo."
Yes, that's right, that's a poop joke in a Chinese propaganda film.
So is the video for real? It was signed by "On Fuxing Road," the same mysterious source as other recent propaganda films that have popped up online with no explanation. And the official Xinhua news agency put it on its Twitter feed. Though China blocks Twitter for its ordinary internet users, the country's state media uses it to push out stories in English targeted at foreign readers.
State media is one facet of China's bid for more influence through soft power; China's propaganda machine also has been making many videos in English targeted to international viewers. But this one has a higher production value than the others, not to mention humor, and it feels like the work of savvy branding experts.
It also feels like an experiment. What happens when you take the image of the Party -- a bunch of guys with dyed black hair wearing dark suits -- and turn it upside down?
The bid for internet virality appears to be working; the foreign press corps in China pounced on the story. The spot posted on video portal Youku has gotten over 600,000 views in less than 48 hours. If you didn't know before that China has a five-year plan, you do now.
This story also appeared on Adage.com.