An app produced by the Chinese government has become the most popular in the country, rocketing up through the charts with a little help from the Chinese Communist Party.
The app’s name “Study (Xi) Strong Country”, is a pun – Xuexi being the word for “study” but also containing the president’s name, suggesting users are to “study Xi”.
The little red app is all-encompassing, allowing users to see state media news reports, video chat with their friends, make a personal schedule and send “red envelopes” of money to friends. The app comes with a Snapchat-like messaging function where messages disappear after being read. But perhaps among its most important functions is that it can help users brush up on Xi Jinping’s thought.
They can also take weekly quizzes – including questions about Xi – to earn points and ultimately prizes or watch television series about China’s “great revolutionary history”.
The app also features sections for various provinces in China where users can see news reports of Xi’s recent visits. A video shot in Hubei shows students, workers, retirees, police, and soldiers shouting “Only by studying (Xi) can we make China strong!”
This week the app overtook WeChat and TikTok to become the most-downloaded app for Apple and ios devices in China, though its popularity is not entirely due to merit.
Government directives have been issued telling members of the Chinese Communist Party to download the app. This week, Henan province, officials instructed party members to “move quickly and effectively” in promoting the app and announced a plan to deploy a team of “correspondents” and commentators to provide material for the app.
A university in Zhejiang called on all party groups to use the app in order to form a “stronghold” for Xi Jinping thought.
Government officials in Fujian province and Qingdao city held workshops last month stressing the “political importance” of the app, and directing local leaders to promote the app across government departments.
Some users have reported feeling stressed about earning enough points on the platform, saying their employers are requiring them to score a certain number of points.
One user wrote on Weibo: “If you have a low score you will be shamed. Now everyone is crazily trying to get more points – how can we learn anything?” Others complained their rankings were being posted everyday. “I’m screwed”, one said.
Others hinted they were forced to download the app. One commentator posted an emoji of a dog looking slyly to the side, an image often used by Chinese internet users to indicate sarcasm, writing: “I voluntarily installed the Study Xi Strong Country app.”
This is not the first Xi app released in China’s battle for the country’s hearts and minds. Last May, the Beijing News reported that the party launched a free app called “Learn from Xi”, which contained Xi’s first book, a collection of his quotes and speeches, even showing a map of the country, so users could know where he had made each statement. The app also featured expert commentary and academic papers analysing his views.
The app comes after a year in which China stepped up its censorship of online platforms.
Censors routinely shut down content deemed dangerous for social stability, including Peppa Pig videos, pictures of Winnie the Pooh and the letter “n”.
Authorities have been forcing activists on Twitter to delete their accounts and WeChat groups are regularly shut down, even ones devoted to apolitical content. In October, almost 10,000 social media accounts for outlets publishing entertainment and celebrity news were closed.