China ‘forces millions of people’ to download app and earn points by following President Xi Jinping news

Conrad Duncan
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China ‘forces millions of people’ to download app and earn points by following President Xi Jinping news

China’s government is forcing millions of people to download an app promoting president Xi Jinping and his Communist Party, according to reports.

Tens of millions of people use the “Study the Great Nation” (Xuexi Qiangguo) app, which allows users to earn points by following news about Mr Xi, such as watching videos of his international visits or answering quiz questions about economic policies.

Critics warn the app’s popularity is engineered by Communist Party officials, who put pressure on citizens to use the app and punish those who ignore it.

Study the Great Nation, which is a pun on Mr Xi’s name (Xuexi can be read as “Study Xi”), was developed by technology giant Alibaba and launched earlier this year.

It has since become the most downloaded app for Apple devices in the country, surpassing messaging app WeChat and viral media app TikTok, with state media claiming it has more than 100 million registered users.

The app has been compared to Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book” which was widely distributed during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.

“He is using new media to fortify loyalty towards him,” Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing, told The New York Times.

Thousands of Communist Party officials have reportedly been ordered to ensure citizens use the app, with schools criticising students with low scores and companies ranking employees based on their usage.

Many employers reportedly require workers to submit daily screenshots to document their progress on the app or deduct pay if the app is not used frequently.

“It’s a perfect example of propaganda in the Xi era ... that appeals to China’s large online population,” Manya Koetse told AFP in February.

Ms Koetse studies social trends in China as the editor of What’s on Weibo, based on the popular social media website Sina Weibo.

The app is thought to be the latest attempt to solidify Mr Xi’s control over China.

Mr Xi is considered one of the most powerful Chinese leaders since Mao and could rule the country indefinitely – the Communist Party removed presidential term limits in March 2018.

The president’s political theory, known as Xi Jinping Thought, was officially incorporated into the Constitution of the Communist Party of China in 2017, putting him among the country’s most significant leaders.

Efforts to crack down on criticism in recent years have included banning search terms related to political dissent and banning Winnie the Pooh, due to memes likening the character to Mr Xi.

It is not known how closely the government can track users on Study the Great Nation, although the app requires a mobile number to register and a national identification number for some features.

“You cannot divert attention away from it,” Haiqing Yu, an Australian professor who studies Chinese media, told The New York Times.

“It’s a kind of digital surveillance. It brings the digital dictatorship to a new level.”