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Explainer: Answering Five Big Questions on the ‘Study Xi’ App

Manya Koetse

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As the ‘Study Xi’ app, that encourages China’s online population to study Xi Jinping Thought, keeps on dominating China’s top app charts, these are some of the big questions on China’s latest interactive propaganda tool. What’s on Weibo explains.

Since its launch in January of this year, the ‘Study Xi, Strengthen China’ app (Xué Xí Qiáng Guó 学习强国, also ‘Study Xi, Strong Country’)1, that was released by the CCP Central Propaganda Research Center (中央宣传部宣传舆情研究中心), has been making headlines both in and outside of China.

The app, that revolves around studying “Xi Jinping’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” (习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想), is still top ranking on China’s popular app charts: it is the overall second top free app in the Chinese iOS Store, and the number one most popular educational app in Chinese charts at the time of writing.

‘Study Xi’ is a multi-functional educational platform that offers users various ways to study Xi Jinping Thought, Party history, Chinese culture, history, and much more. Once people are registered on the app, they can also access the platform via PC. Every user has a score that will go up depending on how active they are on the app.

An important part of the app is its news feed: the home page features “recommended” reads that all focus on Xi Jinping and the Party. Another major feature is its ‘quiz’ page: every week, there are different quizzes that users can do, relating to all sorts of things, from Party ideology to famous Chinese poems.

For our previous article on the app, we listed some of its functions in the image below. It is much more than a media app alone; it also has a social function, that allows users to connect with friends, message them, call them, and even send them ‘red envelopes’ (money presents).

As its popularity continues, and Weibo discussions on the app continue, we will answer some of the questions you might have about the app in this article.

 

#1 Was the app developed by Alibaba?

 

Ever since its launch, it has been rumored that Alibaba is the company that developed this app. In the app’s descriptions, however, all copyright and credits go to the Central Propaganda Department of the Communist Party that has allegedly started developing this app since November of 2017. Nowhere does it say that Alibaba was involved in its development.

Alibaba’s involvement, however, is in no way a secret: the app’s ‘red envelope’ function is made possible through Alipay, the online payment platform that is owned by Ant Financial Services Group, an affiliate company of the Chinese Alibaba Group. One way for users to verify their identity on the app is also by linking it to their Alipay account.

Users of the app also noted that, upon registering for the app, their old Ding Ding conversations were automatically loaded into their chat history. Others said that upon changing their Ding Ding password, their Study Xi password was automatically also changed. Ding Ding is a multifunctional enterprise messaging app by Alibaba (read here), and many of its functions are also incorporated in the Study Xi app.

“I just discovered Study Xi is based on the Ding Ding app – all conversations I had with a good friend on Ding Ding are also displayed on the Study Xi app,” one of the many Weibo comments on the topic said: “Have other people found out yet that the user information between Study Xi and Ding Ding are interoperating with each other?”

According to a Reuters article from February of this year, sources confirmed that the ‘Study Xi, Strengthen China’ app was indeed developed by a special projects team at Alibaba known as the ‘Y Projects Business Unit’ (Y项目事业部). In 2018, Alibaba also published job positions on its website for this ‘Y Projects Business Unit,’ in which the offered jobs would entail working on an “educational platform.”

 

#2 Is ‘Study Xi’ mandatory?

 

Various English-language media covering the Study Xi app have called it a “mandatory app,” but it is not true that all Chinese mobile phone users are required to download it.

Local training for the Study Xi app, image by @高淳固城街道 (March 14, 2019).

Party members, however, are strongly encouraged to use the app to learn more about Party ideology, new policies, and political theory.

All over the country, there are local Party meetings where Party members are taught how to download and use the app. Local state media Weibo accounts frequently post about these meetings, with some mentioning that they are organized as ordered by “higher authorities” (“按照上级有关要求” or “按照要求”), suggesting that organizing and/or attending these classes and downloading the app is indeed mandatory for Party members.

A ‘Study Xi’ meeting in Debao county in Baise, Guangxi. Image via Xinhua.

Many Chinese (state-owned) companies and schools have also ordered their employees and students to download the app. Some Weibo users write that their school requires them to score a certain number of points per day on the app.

“A lot of people I know now use the ‘Study Xi, Strengthen China’ app, but it’s not the same everywhere, as it is required to score a certain number of points in some places. This work method will even make people dislike good things. Studying should be conscious and voluntary,” one Weibo blogger wrote in March.

“I used to like the app because there’s news on current politics and there are quizzes, but since my work unit requested us to spend 30 minutes per day on it, I started to find it annoying,” one netizen (@超凶的钢丝球) said.

“The leader of my mum’s factory had all the workers download the ‘Study Xi, Strengthen China’ app – this world has gone crazy,” another commenter wrote.

“How can they force us to score 30 points per day?” one Weibo commenter wrote: “I’m happy they canceled the rankings. This should not be mandatory.”

The ‘ranking system’ this netizen refers to, was a function in the app that allowed users to view the scores of other users and friends. In late March, nearly three months after the app was launched, its ranking feature was canceled. This means that users can no longer view other people’s score and ‘compete’ with them. The maximum score per day was also reduced from 66 points to 52 points.

Many people on Weibo expressed that they were happy that the ranking system was canceled since they allegedly suffered from peer pressure to reach a certain score. But there are also those who say they found the ranking system “motivational,” and write they are disappointed their scores are now private. “We can always still share our scores on social media,” one Weibo user suggested.

 

#3 How does the scoring system work?

 

The scoring system of the ‘Study Xi’ app works as follows:

  • Upon registering for the app, you receive 1 point.
  • For every article or essay one reads, you get 1 point (one per article, does not work with articles that have already been viewed before, maximum 6 points per day).
  • For every video you watch you get 1 point (the same video won’t be credited with an extra point if you see it twice, max 6 points per day).
  • The time you spend on the app is also rewarded with points: for every 2 minutes of reading an essay, you get 1 point (max 6 points per day).
  • For every 5 minutes of watching a video, you get 1 point (max 8 points per day).
  • You get 1 point for “subscribing” to a media account, which will then show up in your news feed.
  • If you share two articles with friends, you get 1 point.
  • You get 1 point for every two articles or essays you ‘save’ within the app.
  • If you score 100% on a quiz, you get 10 points.

The app encourages users to ‘Study Xi’ at particular times of the day. The morning 6:00-8:30 timeframe, along with the 12:00-14:00 slot and evening 20:00-22:30 times, are designated as so-called “active time slots” during which users can score double points for their activities. Within these time slots, reading an article would, for example, grant a user 2 points instead of 1.

This signals that, in line with good working morale, people are supposed to look into the app during their morning commute, their lunch break, and before bedtime, and are indirectly discouraged from using it during (office) working hours.

The points that are scored on the app will be valid for two years.

Those who accumulate enough points can exchange them for gifts, such as study books or dictionaries, cinema tickets, or other items, which will then be sent to their home address.

Recently, more places also offer special discounts for people with a high Study Xi score. In those regards, the score system is somewhat similar to Alibaba’s Sesame Credit score, that also allows people with high scores certain benefits.

This month, various scenic spots across China’s Henan province offer people with a score of 1000 or higher free entrance to their sites. Those with 1000 points, for example, get one free entrance ticket to the Zhengzhou Fuxi Mountain scenic spot; those who have 2500 points get five tickets for free.

Another recent example is that ‘Study Xi’ users can now get a discount on tickets for the ballet show Bright Red Star.

 

#4 Is the app the Little Red Book ‘2.0’?

 

Foreign media have described the ‘Study Xi’ app as a “high-tech equivalent of Mao’s Little Red Book,” but to what extent is it really?

There is, of course, no straightforward answer here. The Little Red Book and the ‘Study Xi’ app are very different in many ways. The Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong book was first published in 1964 and fully focused on selected quotations by the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party. More than a book, it became a symbol of the Cultural Revolution and was a talisman for many (also see Mao’s Little Red Book: A Global History).

The ‘Study Xi’ app is not a singular text and goes much further than Xi alone; it has an online database containing texts and videos from dozens of sources and is a platform that allows users to educate themselves on various topics, from architecture to biology and much more.

But one thing to keep in mind is that both the Little Red Book and the ‘Study Xi’ app are propaganda methods that communicate a strong message through a medium that can be easily placed in many locations, reaching a great number of people. They both revolve around their Communist leaders, turning them into political idols, and literally brings Party ideology within a hand’s reach.

By turning the ‘Study Xi’ platform into an app that people can also show at various places to get free tickets, based on their score, they are also turning the app into something that matters in the public domain.

 

#5 How is the app received by Chinese internet users?

 

Online responses to the app have been somewhat mixed ever since it came out. For the past months, we’ve been consistently checking online responses to the app. “It’s the app that Party members dread, and non-Party members love” is a comment that popped up on Weibo recently, and it seems to cover a general sentiment: many people appreciate the app, but when it is required of them to use it an to score a certain number of points, they start to dread it.

One popular history blogger (@豢龙有道) recently praised the app on Weibo, saying they had previously not thought of downloading it because they are not a Party member, but now discovered the rich educational sources the app offers. That post was shared over 45,000 times.

The hashtag “‘Study Xi, Strengthen China’ is a treasure app” (#学习强国是个宝藏app#) has been viewed over 180 million times on Weibo, with thousands of commenters applauding the app; they mostly seem to praise its many online educational sources, which include MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses‎) on dozens of subjects, and its online ad-free library of movies, TV dramas, and documentaries.

One general sentiment that most people seem to agree on is that the app is “not bad at all” in how it has been developed and the sources it offers.

In this day and age, Chinese internet users can choose from thousands of different media apps, TV channels, newspapers, and magazines. For the Central Propaganda Department to develop a product that is now being used by millions of people across the country who think it is “not bad at all,” is perhaps really not bad at all.

Also read:
* Gamifying Propaganda: Everything You Need to Know about China’s ‘Study Xi’ App
* Here’s Xi the Cartoon – Online Animations Are China’s New ‘Propaganda Posters’
* Top 5 Most Popular Study and Educational Apps in China

By Manya Koetse

1Translation suggested by Helen Wang @helanwanglondon.


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Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Insight

Looking at Your Phone While Crossing the Road Will Now Cost You Money in Zhejiang

Pedestrians looking at their phones while crossing the road are getting a red light in Zhejiang.

Manya Koetse

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Zhejiang Province in eastern China has recently launched a new policy: pedestrians crossing the road while looking at their phone risk getting a 50 RMB ($7) fine.

The policy has been attracting the attention of netizens on Chinese social media, where the so-called “Bowed head clan” (dītóuzú 低头族) – a slang word for smartphone-addicted people – has been a recurring hot topic.

People paying more attention to their phone than watching traffic while crossing the road can lead to very dangerous situations. Some graphic videos making their rounds on Weibo today show security camera footage of people getting run over by cars while looking at their phone.

The majority of people responding to the hashtag “Should people be fined for looking down to their phone while crossing the road?” (#低头玩手机过马路该罚款吗#) agree that this kind of behaviour is a risk to traffic safety, but some wonder if a small fine would be effective in combating this problem.

Some cities in China have introduced sidewalks with a “phone lane” and “no phone lane” over previous years, with Chongqing being the first city to do so in 2014.

Mobile phone sidewalk in Chonqgqing. Source https://tech.qq.com

As of earlier this year, the Pedestrian Council of Australia is also looking to implement a law that makes it possible to fine pedestrians who cross the road while looking at their phones.

In Honolulu, the ‘distracted walking law’ already makes it illegal for people to be distracted by their cellphones while walking in a crosswalk.

“Fine them!”, some commenters on Weibo say: “And also fine those people using their phone while driving their electric bicycles!”

“I’m not sure about the fine,” another person says: “I only know I bumped into a tree today walking looking at my phone..”

For many commenters, however, the issue is a no-brainer: “Just don’t use your phone while crossing the road. Personal safety comes first.”

Also read: The ‘Bowed Head Clan’ (低头族): Mother Watches Phone While Son Drowns in Pool

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Jialing Xie.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Arts & Entertainment

‘American Factory’ Sparks Debate on Weibo: Pro-China Views and Critical Perspectives

‘American Factory’ stirs online discussions in China.

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Award-winning documentary American Factory is not just sparking conversations in the English-language social media sphere. The film is also igniting discussions in the PRC, where pro-China views are trumpeted, while some critical perspectives are being censored.

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Even as China posts its lowest industrial output growth since 2002, Weibo’s ongoing reaction to Netflix documentary American Factory is rife with declarations of the Chinese manufacturing sector’s impending victory over its US rival. This, however, is not the full story.

The first documentary distributed by Higher Ground Productions, owned by former US President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, American Factory painted a damning picture of Trump’s protectionist policies.

US manufacturing cannot keep up with the brute efficiency of its Chinese competitors. The story of a shuttering American factory revived by Chinese investment and an influx of Chinese workers, opening up a Pandora’s Box of cultural clashes, paints a telling, but pessimistic, picture of the current strategic conflict between the two superpowers, from the ground-up.

Image via Netflix.

Despite the Great Firewall, Chinese netizens found ways to watch the documentary, that was made by Ohio filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert. Temporary links to streaming and subtitle services litter the Chinese Internet, making any accurate count of total mainland viewership nigh-impossible. However, one indication of the film’s popularity among mainlanders was the 259,000 views for a trailer posted on Bilibili.

One likely reason for netizens’ interest is that it neatly plays into Chinese state media rhetoric on the US-China trade war.

The inevitability of China’s rise up the global supply chain (and a corresponding decline on the US side) is a recurring theme in opinion pieces penned by the likes of Xinhua and Global Times, but also an increasingly louder cacophony of bloggers.

 

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing.”

 

One Chinese company (Wind资讯) posted on Weibo that “what Obama means in this film, in a very oblique way, is that anti-globalization will produce a lose-lose scenario.”

The official Weibo account of Zhisland, a Chinese networking platform for entrepreneurs around the world (@正和岛标准) posted a review of the Netflix film titled: “Behind the Popularity of American Factory: Time Might Not Be on America’s Side” (“《美国工厂》走红背后:时间,或许真的不在美国那边了“).

It warns the audience right off the bat to “not assume that this film will promote cooperation between China and the United States. In contrast, it will surely stir up mixed feelings among both audiences.”

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing,” Zhisland writes. The article argues that China will win out due to its lower labor costs, lack of trade unions, and more disciplined managerial styles. “It’s an uneven playing field,” the author continues: “Time may not be on America’s side.”

Toward the end, the author claims: “We are about to enter a new era in which China will gradually become the most dominant player in the global marketplace.”

The fact that many on Weibo shared these kinds of pieces as a reaction to the documentary suggests there is confirmation bias at work here. As is common on Weibo and other social media, comments on the pieces like the above simply rattle unsubstantiated claims, frequently descending into ad hominems.

Another Weibo user (@用户Mr.立早) adds comments when sharing the above article: “The American workers repeat Trump’s mantra, but won’t act on it. They’ve been idling for almost a century. They’re hopeless.”

 

“American Factory tells you: separate the US economy from China, and the US will go bankrupt.”

 

Chinese state media also chimed in on how American Factory proved their most important talking points on the ongoing US-China trade conflict.

Xinmin Evening News, an official newspaper run by the Communist Party’s Shanghai Committee, published an article by Wu Jian called “American Factory Tells You: Separate the US Economy from China, and the US Will Go Bankrupt” (“《美国工厂》告诉你:将美国经济从中国分离,美国会破产“).

In this piece, Jian claims that “in the age of globalization, ties between China and the US cannot be cut. Using high tariffs to force U. S. manufacturing return to the States… is simply not realistic. Separate the US economy from China, and the U.S. will go bankrupt.”

The article was also shared widely on Weibo. Thepaper.cn, an online news site affiliated with Shanghai United Media Group, published a review titled “American Factory: The Things that Are Spelled Out and the Things that are Implied” (“《美国工厂》:那些说出来的,和没有说的“).

The author, Xu Le, writes: “What struck me most about the film was the look on the faces of the American workers. All of them … had the same burnt-out expression… Their faces reminded me of photos of people in the late Qing Dynasty. That dull expression reflects a civilization in decline.”

“We’re a family at Fuyao” American workers listen to a rosy speech from their new bosses.

In the film, When American foremen visit a factory run by glass manufacturer Fuyao in China, they are alarmed to see Chinese workers picking up glass shards without safety glasses or cut-resistant gloves.

A Chinese worker picks up glass shards with minimal safety equipment, shocking his American co-workers.

Xu comments: “Why is it that Chinese workers are able to put up with even more drudgery while being paid far less than their American counterparts? This is something we Chinese are very familiar with.”

 

“Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

 

Qin Hui, professor of history at Tsinghua University, once argued that China’s economic growth isn’t because of economic liberalism or government oversight, but because of China’s refusal to guarantee certain basic human rights.

In Maoist China, the state stripped the underprivileged of all political power in the name of the greater good dictated by socialist dogma. Post-Mao China continues to exploit the underprivileged, but now for monetary gain. He called it China’s “advantage” of “low human rights.”

Despite the nationalism sentiment fanned by American Factory, it has also provoked reflection on China’s advantage of low human rights summarized by Qin Hui.

Weibo user ‘Zhi21’ (@ZHI2i), a recent college graduate, writes on Weibo: “I just finished an internship at a factory. I worked 12 hours a day. More than 11 hours of every shift was spent on my feet without stopping, just to keep up with the assembly line. It didn’t make sense to me. After watching American Factory, I feel like American workers are lucky to only work 8 hours a day. That’s why the production costs are higher in the States. They pay too much attention to whether or not workers are comfortable.”

Another Weibo blogger (@GhostSaDNesS) notes that “in American Factory, Fuyao employees believe that to work is to live. They defend the interests of capitalists while they are actively exploited. Unions in the West chose human rights, Chinese capitalists chose profit, and Chinese workers have no choice at all.”

Some of these posts were apparently censored; threads that displayed as having over 200 comments only showed 12, and users complained that their posts were being deleted or made invisible to other users by Weibo censors. “They didn’t give any explanation,” one blogger wrote: ” I only expressed that I felt sorry for the people at the bottom. I didn’t question the system. I didn’t ask to change society.”

Views like that of @Crimmy_Excelsior (“I was confused. Which country is the capitalist one and which country is the socialist one?“) are apparently sensitive enough to be taken offline – they touch upon the tension between the CCP’s espousal of Marxist-Leninism and the plight faced by hundreds of millions of Chinese that have their working conditions driven down by capitalist markets.

Many users don’t buy into nationalist interpretations of the film, and argue that economic gain achieved at the expense of human rights is shameful. @陈生大王 raises a poignant question: “This is a glorious time for China, but I hope this film inspires you to think about who you really are as an individual. Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

“The cost of the glory” is derived from a quip popular on China’s internet. The Chinese government often urges its citizens to rally together, using the rhetoric, “We must win this trade war at all cost.” Some netizens then twisted the phrase, saying, “We must win this trade war at all cost, and we later find out that we are the cost.”

 

“China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.”

 

Even among those in favor of China’s controversial work ethics, there have been concerns over the status quo. Earlier this year, engineers in the tech industry publicly aired their grievances about their “996” lifestyle. The term refers to a high-pressure work schedule of 9am to 9pm, six days a week. This is the kind of life workers in Fuyao are living, with no hope of improvement – they are that the company would find a replacement in no time, making any form of complaining moot.

Recent events in mainland China only increase the credibility of this representation. Factory workers at Jasic, a maker of welding machinery in Shenzhen, attempted to start a union last year. All those involved were fired. A number of college students and activists who actively supported the workers were detained and persecuted.

According to the “China Labor Movement Report (2015-2017)” by China Labor Bulletin (a NGO based in Hong Kong that promotes and defends workers’ rights in the People’s Republic of China) “intensification of social conflicts, including labor-capital conflicts, has crossed a tipping point, and directly threatens the legitimacy of the regime.”

More conspicuously, there are netizens that don’t buy the narrative that Chinese workers are innately “tougher” than their American counterparts. As user @胡尕峰 observes: “(In the film), a new Chinese CEO explains to his fellow Chinese that Americans have been encouraged too much growing up, and can’t take criticism. Chinese born after 2000 have been raised the same way! In my circle of friends, some mothers nearly faint when their babies are finally able to poop. Is China going to end up the same as America?”

American Factory’s objective portrayal of cultural shocks between American and Chinese workforces clearly generated thoughtful reflections and incisive criticism from a sizeable number of netizens, while also being another reason for Chinese state media to highlight the rise of China in the global market.

The chairman of Fuyao Group, Cao Dewang, made headlines this week with the quote: “China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.” “We indeed worked hard for it,” some commenters agreed: “That’s definitely true.”

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Edited by Eduardo Baptista

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©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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