HONG KONG -- In the late 1970s, after China had emerged from the frenzy of the Cultural Revolution and it was again politically correct to talk about development, economists and officials focused on two principal economic indices: GVIO and GVAO, or gross value of industrial output and gross value of agricultural output.

Since development of industry was seen as crucial to economic modernization, newspaper articles regularly talked about annual increases in the gross value of industrial output, as though that showed definitively that China was on the right track and that the economy was developing.

But in those days, of course, China was a command economy. Central planners in Beijing decided what to produce and how much to produce, and the word was passed down to the provinces and municipalities and from them to the enterprises. At each level, officials would pledge not only to meet their assigned quotas but to over-fulfill their production targets and, the following year, one would read about another proud increase in GVIO.