CHANGSHA, China — Inside a fishing gear retailer on a busy metropolis avenue, the proprietor sits behind a counter, furiously tapping a smartphone to enhance his rating on an app that has nothing to do with rods, reels and bait.
The proprietor, Jiang Shuiqiu, a 35-year-old military veteran, has a special obsession: incomes factors on Examine the Nice Nation, a brand new app dedicated to selling President Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Get together — a sort of high-tech equal of Mao’s Little Crimson E book. Mr. Jiang spends a number of hours each day on the app, checking information about Mr. Xi and brushing up on socialist theories.
Tens of hundreds of thousands of Chinese language staff, college students and civil servants are actually utilizing Examine the Nice Nation, usually beneath strain from the federal government. It’s a part of a sweeping effort by Mr. Xi to strengthen ideological management within the digital age and reassert the get together’s primacy, as Mao as soon as did, as the middle of Chinese language life.
“We should love our nation,” stated Mr. Jiang, one of many high scorers on the app in Changsha, the capital of the southern province of Hunan. “We’re getting stronger and stronger.”
Whereas many individuals have embraced the app as a type of patriotism, others see it as a burden imposed by overzealous officers and one other signal of a rising character cult round Mr. Xi, maybe China’s strongest chief since Mao’s time.
“He’s utilizing new media to fortify loyalty towards him,” stated Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing. He likened Examine the Nice Nation to the little booklet of Mao quotations that was extensively circulated in the course of the chaotic and violent Cultural Revolution.
Since its debut this yr, Examine the Nice Nation has grow to be probably the most downloaded app on Apple’s digital storefront in China, with the state information media saying it has greater than 100 million registered customers — a attain that may be the envy of any new app’s creators.
However these numbers are pushed largely by the get together, which ordered 1000’s of officers throughout China to make sure that the app penetrates the each day routines of as many voters as doable, whether or not they prefer it or not.
Faculties are shaming college students with low app scores. Authorities places of work are holding research periods and forcing staff who fall behind to jot down studies criticizing themselves. Non-public corporations, hoping to curry favor with get together officers, are rating staff based mostly on their use of the app and awarding high performers the title of “star learner.”
Many employers now require staff to submit each day screenshots documenting what number of factors they’ve earned.
Propaganda is ubiquitous in China, however consultants say Examine the Nice Nation is completely different as a result of the federal government is forcing individuals to make use of it and punishing those that cheat or fall behind.
The app permits customers to earn factors for staying on high of reports about Mr. Xi. Watching a video about his current go to to France, for instance, earns one level. Getting an ideal rating on a quiz about his financial insurance policies earns 10.
The app comes as Mr. Xi, who rose to energy in 2012, is main a broader crackdown on free speech in China, imprisoning scores of activists, legal professionals and intellectuals, and imposing new restrictions on the information media. Mr. Xi has spoken regularly about what he calls the necessity to guard towards on-line threats. He has warned that the get together may lose its grip on energy if it doesn’t grasp digital media.
“There isn’t any nationwide safety with out web safety,” Mr. Xi stated in a speech this yr. “If we can’t succeed on the web, we will be unable to keep up energy in the long term.”
David Bandurski, co-director of the China Media Challenge, stated the app was a manner for Mr. Xi to make sure that Chinese language households are invested within the lifetime of the get together at a time when many dismiss propaganda as stilted and irrelevant.
“Loyalty to the get together,” Mr. Bandurski stated, “means loyalty to Xi Jinping.”
Examine the Nice Nation in some methods harkens again to the Mao period, when the chairman’s portrait hung in residing rooms and households studied his phrases feverishly. Whereas Mr. Xi can’t but match Mao’s grandeur, he has borrowed from Mao’s playbook in his quest to be seen as a singular, transformative pressure.
The app includes a tv collection referred to as “Xi Time” and Mr. Xi’s quotations on matters like constructing a robust navy and attaining a “Chinese language dream” of prosperity and energy. The app recommends tales about Mr. Xi on its house display and sends push notifications highlighting “golden sentences” from his newest speeches. Even the Chinese language title for the app is a play on Mr. Xi’s title.
The app, which additionally affords lighter fare about conventional Chinese language tradition, historical past and geography, presents a censored model of present occasions. Subjects comparable to China’s mass detention of Muslims usually are not included.
At Hulunbuir College in northern China, faculty officers monitor the scores of greater than 1,100 lecturers and college students who use the app as a part of the college’s efforts to unfold Mr. Xi’s concepts, recognized in China as Xi Jinping Thought.
“Everybody research voluntarily and has very excessive scores,” stated Bai Mei, an ideology teacher on the college.
Not everyone seems to be as enthusiastic. In interviews, college students and staff complained that superiors publicly chastised them for low scores. Others stated bosses threatened to deduct pay or withhold bonuses if they didn’t use the app extra regularly. They didn’t need to present their names for concern of punishment, however some have complained on-line.
“What sort of phenomenon is that this?” one consumer wrote on Weibo, a preferred social media website, complaining of a wage deduction. “My God, what has occurred to the get together now?”
Critics say Mr. Xi is intruding into the non-public lives of Chinese language residents in a manner the get together has sometimes prevented because the Mao period. The app makes the get together’s messages troublesome to disregard, awarding factors solely when an article has been learn utterly and a video has been watched for no less than three minutes.
“You can’t divert consideration away from it,” stated Haiqing Yu, a professor who research Chinese language media at RMIT College in Australia. “It’s a sort of digital surveillance. It brings the digital dictatorship to a brand new degree.”
The app, which was developed by the get together’s Propaganda Division and the know-how big Alibaba, is offered on the Apple app retailer in addition to Android app shops in China. The Propaganda Division retains consumer information.
It’s unclear how intently the federal government tracks customers of Examine the Nice Nation, however the app requires individuals to offer a cell quantity to register and a nationwide identification quantity to entry videoconference and chat options.
The Propaganda Division declined to remark, as did Alibaba, which is listed on the New York Inventory Change.
Given the pressures to make use of the app, a dishonest business involving no less than a dozen merchandise has flourished. A person who listed his contact info in an internet commercial for dishonest software program stated in an interview that a lot of his greater than 1,00zero clients noticed the app as a burden imposed by bosses. He declined to offer his title for concern of retribution.
The federal government has moved swiftly to prosecute dishonest and restrict criticism of the app. The police within the southeastern province of Jiangxi final month detained a person who offered dishonest software program for about $13. The police stated the person was operating an unlawful enterprise.
The state-run information media teems with glowing evaluations of the app, together with tales about diligent hospital staff and kindergarten lecturers who open Examine the Nice Nation as quickly as they awaken, even earlier than they drink water or go to the lavatory.
The app has impressed movies by jail guards, raps by kids and adulatory song-and-dance routines by energy plant staff. Some get together members have steered the app can be utilized as a courting software to display potential mates (“In case you see a man on the subway utilizing the app,” says one cartoon, “you must marry him”).
In Changsha, which coincidentally is an hour’s drive from Mao’s childhood house, the native information media has lauded Mr. Jiang, the proprietor of the fishing gear retailer, for his excessive scores. He and his spouse generally reply questions on the app collectively at dinner, alongside their 9-year-old son.
Mr. Jiang stated his navy coaching had impressed him to dedicate himself absolutely to Examine the Nice Nation. Through the use of the app, he stated, he has grown much more patriotic.
“President Xi has a dream of nice renaissance,” he stated. “When younger individuals are sturdy, the nation is robust.”