On the eve of China’s top annual political meeting — the National People’s Congress (NPC) — private tech companies and the government are banding together to release hi-tech propaganda tools, bringing reverence for the Communist Party’s message into the 21st century.
The most popular of these right now is called “Xuexi Qiangguo.” First released in January this year, its name means ‘Study to make China strong.’
This app, which several sources told Reuters was developed by Hangzhou-based tech giant Alibaba, overtook Tik Tok’s Chinese version “Douyin” as well as Tencent’s WeChat to become the county’s most popular app on Apple’s China app store in mid February this year.
At least part of the app’s runaway popularity can be attributed to directives issued by local governments, universities and party units in private companies that require people in China’s expansive party member network to download the app.
Beijing-based conglomerate Tidal Star Group has gone a step further and asks all of its 133 employees in the Chinese capital, not just party members, to use the Xuexi Qiangguo app every day.
All employees are ranked based on their scores in the app’s quizzes. Those with high scores are given prizes. Those with low scores are encouraged to study further, the company told Reuters.
Tidal Star Group’s communist party secretary, 63-year-old Cheng Hong, says this app will help direct young people at the company towards the “correct” line of political thought.
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In many Chinese companies, the human resources departments may take political viewpoints into account when considering possible promotions.
There are around 90-million party members in China, according to official statistics published in 2018. At the National Museum of China in Beijing, Reuters encountered a number of party members describing a big propaganda push for employees to download and use the app in the workplace.
Tian Yueling, a university teacher from Gansu province, said that her provincial educational department has demanded that all teachers in Gansu download the app.
Elsewhere, 42-year-old Gao Peng from Beijing said that local party leaders in his sub-district have met him and others face-to-face to remind them to use the app.
Despite the pressure from above, most, including 33-year-old ideological and political studies university teacher Sun Guixia, offered positive reviews, with several praising its extensive features and diverse content.
“At the beginning, in fact, everyone was quite curious — why should we use this app every day? But after using it for one week, we found that there is a lot of knowledge inside which is quite worth studying,” Sun said.
Some critics, including Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, are not surprised by the Xuexi Qiangguo’s massive impact.
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Its popularity “implies the rise of digital authoritarianism in China. And it shows how the communist regime will use the digital and mobile applications to promote its propaganda and ideology,” Wong told Reuters.
“Critical thinking and freedom of mind never exists in the education system of China, especially after these apps (have) been widespread, it just shows that, how teachers and students, they are forced to not only (be) loyal to the country, not only loyal to the regime, but even loyal to Emperor Xi,” Wong added.