China’s most popular app is a propaganda tool teaching Xi Jinping Thought

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A slick tool for teaching “Xi Jinping Thought” has become the most popular smartphone app in China, as the country’s ruling Communist Party launched a new campaign that calls on its cadres to immerse themselves in the political doctrine every day.

Xuexi Qiangguo, which translates to “Study powerful country”, is now the most downloaded item on Apple’s domestic App Store, surpassing in demand social media apps such as WeChat and TikTok – known as Weixin and Douyin, respectively, in mainland China.

Released by the party’s publicity department in January, Xuexi Qiangguo mostly serves as a news aggregation platform for articles, short video clips and documentaries about President Xi Jinping’s political philosophy.

Officially called “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”, this political theory was presented by Xi, 65, at the Communist Party Congress in 2017. It has since been enshrined as part of the state and party constitutions.

Xuexi Qiangguo requires users to sign up with their mobile numbers and real names. “Study points” are earned by users who log on the app, read articles, make comments every day and participate in multiple-choice tests about the party’s policies.

That points feature also offers a method to monitor the compulsory use of the app. Party cadres across the country are now required to use the app every day and accumulate their scores, according to recent state media reports.

Xuexi Qiangguo is designed to be a super app that enables users to access a range of services, much like what Tencent Holdings’ WeChat has become.

The app allows users to send each other messages, which automatically disappear after being read, similar to Snapchat. It lets users send virtual red packets after linking their Xuexi Qiangguo account with the Alipay wallet app. It also supports video conference calls.

A new feature that allows users to redeem their “study points” for gifts is yet to be launched.

That wide functionality reflects a propaganda apparatus that has been updated for how information is now consumed and shared across China, which has the world’s biggest internet population and largest smartphone market.

The internet in China has always been heavily censored, but Xi’s recent call to ensure “the voice of the party can reach all kinds of user terminals directly”, has prompted propaganda chiefs to recruit new media specialists who will help promote the party line through platforms that resonate with the nation’s smartphone- and social media-savvy citizens.

Over the past few years, the Communist Party has tried to engage young Chinese people through a number of new propaganda efforts that include rap songs, comics and WeChat stickers. In October last year, the local television station in south central China’s Hunan province launched a game show where contestants are tested on their knowledge of the party’s ideology. Last month, a seven-episode cartoon programme about socialist revolutionary Karl Marx was streamed on the popular video site Bilili.

The growing use of Xuexi Qiangguo across the country is shaping up to be the party’s most successful propaganda effort to date based on recent accounts.

Wu Meisheng, a 66-year-old villager in the eastern coastal province of Shandong, told the Guang Ming Daily that he bought his first smartphone for the purpose of using Xuexi Qiangguo. Local media have also reported about Yu Chunying, a young female cadre in Shandong, who opted to cancel her blind dates during the weekend so she can promote the app.

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