“You can’t be a revolutionary if you don’t eat chilies.” Thus spoke Chairman Mao. Yes, there was a time when everyone in China had to read the wisdom found in the pages of Mao’s Little Red Book. But this is the digital age and Mao is dead. The Little Red Book has faded. Yet, wisdom persists. It can now be accessed through an app entitled, Study the Great Nation (Xuexi Qiangguo), featuring the enduring wisdom of President Xi Jinping. “NBA games are exciting to watch and have global appeal.” Yes, there is deep wisdom to be found here. No wonder so many Chinese are rushing to their local app stores to download the app that will give them instant access to such wisdom. Life would have little meaning without such guidance. In fact, life may have little meaning if you refuse to download the app.
But, as the old saying goes, “you can force a person to download an app, but you can’t make them use it” (note: this quote is not from the Little Red Book). Well, actually, you can make them use it. All you have to do is have your workers show you how much they are using it. How do you do this? You give them tests or have them send you screenshots of their progress. So what? You may naively ask. Well, if a worker is not showing significant progress, they will receive a pay deduction.
According to the New York Times, “Schools are shaming students with low app scores. Government offices are holding study sessions and forcing workers who fall behind to write reports criticizing themselves. Private companies, hoping to curry favor with party officials, are ranking employees based on their use of the app and awarding top performers the title of ‘star learner’.” All government officials at all levels are encouraged “to make the Study the Great Nation learning platform a household name.” The goal is “to create a new way to study and implement Xi Jinping’s new era of socialist thought.”
Sadly, the app is not available in English and can only be downloaded inside China. There is some disagreement as to its popularity. It is listed as the number one downloaded app on the Chinese Apple Store in the educational category. However, other sites have it at number 72. Position aside, it is not highly rated as apps go. The popular app site, 360 app, had it at a 2.5 out of 5 star rating with several sarcastic comments. The most recent page has it with a 4.5 rating and no comments at all. Wow! How did that happen? Hey, you don’t think… But, although it may be popular with Chinese Communist Party members and those that work in businesses run by them, according to my sources in China, few non-party affiliated workers even know the app exists.
The app is invasive. It requires numerous permissions, among which are automatic boot, read contacts, edit contact information, get mobile location, access the network, dial numbers, and use Bluetooth. In fact, it kind of looks as if it comes with its own built in Trojan.
Not only that but it appears to be connected to the popular online store, Alibaba. People downloading the app noticed that it referred to them by their Alibaba nickname and suggested they use previously registered phone numbers.
With the relinquishing of all of their privacy, users put themselves in an untenable position. This is because the app includes a number of other functionalities which include messaging, making video and conference calls, sending money, a chat platform, and facial recognition. In other words, the user has agreed to invite the government into every communication they engage in. To register for the app, the user must supply a phone number and is encouraged to upload a copy of their Chinese identity card. In short, users are under continuous surveillance.
This is not to say that everything about Study the Great Nation is negative. There are aspects of its design which are quite innovative. The more diligent a user is, the more points they can score. Those scoring the most points can qualify for prizes, like for example, a new Chinese dictionary or a Huawei tablet. Users score points in the ways shown below. In addition, if you use the app during the hours of 6:00-8:30am, 12:00-2:00pm, and 8:00-10:30pm, you can receive double points. The government certainly doesn’t want people to use the app during working hours. You don’t want it disrupting the economy, after all.
Note the importance of quizzes. This is to stop people from circumventing the purpose of the app by not really reading articles or watching videos.
As is often the case with apps that give points, websites have sprung up which give tips to people on how to get points without really using the app. It is for example, common for users to mute videos while they continue to do other tasks. Since the app offers the user the chance to access approved books and movies that promote Chinese culture or communist ideology, faking their viewing can amass large point totals.
But turning President Xi into a game is not the main point for this app. Xi wants to solidify the cult status he received when, in 2017, his ‘Thoughts’ were incorporated into the Constitution of the Communist Party in China. This was followed by the removal of presidential term limits, giving Xi the chance to remain as president for life. He has, in fact, maneuvered himself into being the leader of the world’s biggest cult.
For the time being, the app is only requested/required to be used by members of the Communist Party or those working closely with it. Of course, the government is pushing for more private businesses and schools to use it. After all, familiarity with the Great Leader’s thoughts can only lead to a more harmonious society. Besides, you don’t do business in China without the permission of the government. Ask Facebook. Every business operating in China knows that if they don’t obey government dictates, they may encounter unexpected problems. Why not make yourself look good in the eyes of those who control your destiny? Business, after all, is business.