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

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Insight

Pelosi in Taiwan: “1.4 Billion People Do Not Agree with Interference in China’s Sovereignty Issues”

“The Old Witch has landed!”, many commenters wrote on Weibo when Pelosi arrived in Taiwan.

Manya Koetse

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August 2nd was a tumultuous day on Chinese social media, with millions of netizens closely following how Pelosi’s plane landed in Taiwan. Chinese state media propagate the message that not only Chinese authorities condemn the move, but that the Chinese people denounce it just as much.

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan is all the talk on Weibo, where netizens are closely following the latest developments and what they might mean for the near future of Taiwan and Sino-American relations.

“Today is a sensitive time, as it is said that Pelosi will fly into Taiwan tonight, challenging the one-China principle,” Global Times political commentator Hu Xijin wrote on Weibo on Tuesday afternoon, while Pelosi’s plane was still en route:

“At this time I’d like to tell everyone, that I firmly believe the Chinese government will definitely take a series of countermeasures, which include military actions. The Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of National Defense have repeatedly said they are “on the alert and combat-ready” and will not “sit and watch.” This is the country’s prestige, how could they not hit back? So let’s wait and see what will happen next.”

Tuesday was an extremely tumultuous day on Chinese social media as Taiwan- and Pelosi-related hashtags popped up one after the other, and news and videos kept flooding the platform, sometimes leading to a temporary overload of Weibo’s servers.

Around 20.30, an hour before Pelosi was expected to land in Taiwan at that time, more than half of all the trending search topics on Weibo related to Pelosi and Taiwan as virtually everyone was following the plane’s route and when it would land.

Not long before the expected landing of Pelosi’s plane, footage circulated on Weibo showing the iconic Taipei 101 building with a display of greetings to Pelosi, welcoming her to Taiwan and thanking her for her support.

By Tuesday night, Chinese official channels promoted the hashtags “The United States Plays With Fire & Will Burn Itself by Taiwan Involvement Provocation” (#美台勾连挑衅玩火必自焚#) along with the hashtag “1.4 Billion People Do Not Agree with Interference in China’s Sovereignty Issues” (​​#干涉中国主权问题14亿人不答应#).

Image posted by Communist Youth League on Weibo.

Millions of Chinese netizens followed flight radar livestreams, with one livestream by China.org receiving over 70 million viewers at one point.

On Tuesday night at 22:44 local time, after taking a detour, Pelosi’s plane finally landed in Taipei. About eight minutes later, Nancy Pelosi, wearing a pink suit, stepped out of the plane together with her delegation.

“The Old Witch has landed!”, many commenters wrote on Weibo, where Nancy Pelosi has been nicknamed ‘Old Witch’ recently.

Not long after, Hu Xijin posted on both on Twitter (in English) and on Weibo (in Chinese), writing that Pelosi’s landing in Taiwan opened an “era of high-intensity competition between China and US over Taiwan Strait.” Hu wrote that the PLA is announcing a series of actions, including military drill operations and live-fire exercises in zones surrounding Taiwan from August 4 to 7.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying (华春莹) also posted a series of tweets condemning the “wrong and dangerous path” the U.S. is allegedly heading down, reiterating the same ‘1.4 billion people do not agree’ narrative that was previously propagated on Weibo by official channels: “Making themselves an enemy of the 1.4 billion Chinese people will not end up well. Acting like a bully in front of the whole world will only make everyone see that the US is the biggest danger to world peace.”

Many netizens expressed frustrations over how seemingly easy it was for Pelosi to land in Taiwan despite repeated warnings. “It’s not like I want us to go to war,” one person wrote on Weibo: “But they are getting off too easy. For days we shouted about countermeasures, what kind of countermeasure is this?”

“Even our community guard who makes 1500 a month [$220] does a better job; if he says you can’t come in, you can’t come in,” another blogger wrote.

The majority of commenters do express their dissatisfaction and anger about Pelosi coming to Taiwan, some even writing: “I hope that Taiwan is liberated when I wake up” or “We must unify again, once the Old Witch is gone, we can do so.”

Passed midnight the hashtag “There Is But One China” (#只有一个中国#), initiated by CCTV, picked up on Weibo and received over 320 million views. The post by CCTV that only said “there is but one China” was forwarded on Weibo over 1,3 million times.

“Taiwan is China’s Taiwan,” many people commented.

“I don’t think I can sleep tonight,” some wrote.

Meanwhile, on FreeWeibo, a website monitoring censored posts on Chinese social media platform Weibo, there are some posts casting another light on the Taiwan issue.

“Regarding ‘Taiwan is China’s Taiwan.’ Every person can vote, there’s multi-party rule, and there can be democratic elections. Only then can we talk about a reunification,” one comment said. It was censored shortly after.

For our other articles relating to Pelosi and her Taiwan visit, click here.

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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China Arts & Entertainment

Viral Bilibili Video Featuring Rural Carpenter: Disabled & Determined ‘Uncle’ Becomes Chinese Internet Sensation

Yige Caixiang’s touching portrait of his disabled Uncle shows that it’s not about the cards you’re dealt but about how you play them.

Manya Koetse

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Chinese vlogger Yige Caixiang (衣戈猜想) posted a short film on Bilibili about his disabled uncle living in a poor rural area in China. This portrait of his resilient and resourceful ‘Uncle’ has touched the hearts of many netizens, and went viral overnight.

A video that was posted on the Chinese video platform Bilibili on Monday, July 25, has gone viral on social media for the inspiring story it tells about a resilient villager who became disabled as a teenager. The video was uploaded by vlogger ‘Yige Caixiang’ (@衣戈猜想) and received over ten million views in a day, becoming the number one video on the Bilibili platform.

“This is my uncle,” the vlogger can be heard saying at the start of the 11:30-minute video, titled “How Uncle Cured My Mental Friction after Being Back in the Village for Three Days” (回村三天,二舅治好了我的精神内耗), introducing his old uncle and grandma standing in front of their home “built at a time when the U.S. didn’t even exist yet.”

While showing footage of family and village life, Yige Caixiang tells about his uncle through a voice-over, recording his own trip to his family’s village by detailing the life of his mother’s brother.

His uncle used to be the brightest kid in school, he tells, always getting top grades. One day, as a teenager, he got sick with a high fever. A doctor in a neighboring village ‘treated’ Uncle with various injections in his backside, after which Uncle could no longer use his leg and ended up being permanently disabled. Feeling depressed and hopeless, he did not return to school and spent weeks lying in bed. The village teachers were unable to convince him to come back to class.

After three years, Uncle stepped outside of the home courtyard for the first time with his crutches. He was inspired to become a carpenter after seeing one at work in the family courtyard, and so he also started doing the same work, and was able to make a living by going around and doing carpentry jobs for villagers. Never formally diagnosed, he was unable to get a disability certificate.

Wanting to visit Tiananmen Square’s Mao memorial hall, Uncle traveled to Beijing one time and ended up staying with a cousin who worked in the military, doing carpentry work for the soldiers, with whom he soon became friends. A military chief even rubbed his back in the public bath house (“people in Beijing are good at rubbing backs,” he’d later say).

But Uncle eventually returned to his village, and was able to attend his sisters’ wedding send-offs and gave them complete furniture sets personally made by him – a rare possession to have for a young rural bride in the 1980s.

Uncle made complete furniture sets.

Besides taking care of his sisters, Uncle also took care of an abandoned village girl named Ning Ning, whom he adopted. By the time she got married, he was able to help the young couple with the down-payment for their new family home, for which he invested half of his life savings.

 
“It is only when they are near the end of their lives that people come to realize that the biggest regret in life is always regretting the past.”
 

When Uncle was in his thirties, he became acquainted with a married lady from a nearby village. Although she had a husband and two daughters, she spent a lot of time with Uncle and even cooked and cleaned for him. Treating her as if she was his own wife, he handed over his weekly pay to her and was happy to have a bowl of rice and a warm house waiting for him after a hard day of work.

But as time went on, she never divorced her husband and other family members started seeing her as an intruder who was just out for his money to support her own family. The young Ning Ning even called her an “old fox.”

The ending of this peculiar love story remains somewhat of a mystery up to this day, Yige Caixiang says. The woman and her husband passed away in a shed due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Uncle never spoke of it again and also never married another woman.

As the decades passed, Uncle took care of his aging mother while still doing carpentry work, often taking him with her around the area. Years before, he once encountered the doctor who tried to ‘cure’ him. If this had happened now, the doctor had said, I would’ve been sued and lost lots of money. But that never would have happened at that time, and it never happened later either.

Grandmother, at 88, is now struggling with her health and does not have the energy to go on living anymore. “In aging and sickness we find a necessary exercise between life and death,” the vlogger reflects (“老病是生死之间的必要演习”), suggesting that the pain of growing old also makes it easier to be at peace when having to part with life.

By now, taking care of his old mother has become a full-time job for Uncle, who cooks for her and washes her face in the morning and bathes her feet at night. Besides that, he is also more than just a carpenter; he is the village handyman, repairing electronic devices, door locks, radios, stoves, and even fixing broken toys of the neighborhood children. When it is necessary, he can be an acupuncturist and a painter, too.

Whenever there is a problem, Uncle will find a way to solve it. There’s just three things he can’t repair, Yige Caixang says: smartphones, cars, and computers – because Uncle never owned any. Although the villagers sometimes jokingly call Uncle “crooked” because of his leg and crutches, they all know how much they care for him and how much the entire village depends on him.

In the final part of the 11-minute video, Yige Caixiang reflects on what life might have looked like for his Uncle if he had not received those injections in the 1970s. He probably would have taken the national exams, would have gone to study at university, and maybe would have become an engineer with a good income and secure financial future. But Uncle does not want to think like that. Refusing to look back, he is happy with his life in the village.

It is only when they are near the end of their lives that people come to realize that the biggest regret in life is always regretting the past, Yige Caixiang says. The main thing that matters in life is not the cards you were dealt, but how you play them. Uncle was dealt a bad card, but played it beautifully through his continuous self-improvement and perseverance.

In an old notebook underneath Uncle’s bed, a line of text scribbled on the first page shows a Mao Zedong quote: “Be determined, fear no sacrifice, and surmount every difficulty to win victory” (“下定决心,不怕牺牲,排除万难,去争取胜利”).

 
“Let Uncle quietly live together with grandma in the small mountain village – that is the most beautiful ending this story could have.”
 

A day after it was posted, the resilient Uncle is a much-discussed topic on Chinese social media. The overall tone and setting of the video is so spirit-lifting and humbling, that it is not surprising for both netizens and state media outlets to jump on it, just as they did before with stories shared by Ding Zhen, Fan Yusu, or Zhong Jitao.

One hashtag for the short film – “How Uncle Cured My Mental Friction after Being Back in the Village for Three Days” #二舅治好了我的精神内耗# – received a staggering 630 million clicks by Tuesday. The hashtag “Why Did Uncle Blow Up Like That” (#二舅为什么突然火了#) received over 140 million views on Weibo.

The vlogger who made and posted the video is mostly known by his social media handle, Yige Caixiang (衣戈猜想). The maker himself did not release his own real name nor that of his Uncle. The vlogger apparently used to be an instructor, as multiple netizens claim that he was their previous history teacher.

Yige Caixiang is not a Bilibili newcomer. As a creator, he previously uploaded over thirty videos. They are mostly related to popular science and none of them have blown up like this one has.

After the video flooded the internet, Yige Caixiang responded to the hype on Tuesday and posted the following on Weibo:

“Hi Weibo friends, many of you messaged me after seeing Uncle’s video, suggesting I’d let him go livestream on a big streaming site. Thanks to everyone for caring, but now that Uncle is getting some online attention, you want to persuade him to livestream to do what? Repeating his suffering like Xianglin’s Wife (t/n: this is a reference to an old woman in one of Lu Xun’s famous stories), then playing games with a bunch of people who don’t know anything, kneeling and begging them for support, and then suddenly starting to talk them into buying tissue paper? Uncle seriously lived half of his life already, I shared his story now, you heard it and it touched you, this makes a beautiful little story, and it should have a beautiful ending. Didn’t we see enough beautiful stories with a rotten ending over the past few years? Let Uncle quietly live together with grandma in the small mountain village – that is the most beautiful ending this story could have.”

Addressing rumors that the video was not authentic, Yige Caixiang said about the video that “every single word is true” and that none of the details surrounding Uncle’s life had been edited or altered in any way.

The video speaks to netizens for different reasons. Many are inspired due to the life lessons it contains regarding perseverance and not looking back on the things that might have been different. Others praise how Uncle was still able to save so much money for his daughter’s down-payment on her new home despite struggling himself. Many just applaud Uncle’s unparalleled strength despite their disability. Others appreciate the perspective the video gives on Chinese rural life.

There are also those who are concerned about enthusiastic netizens visiting Uncle in his sleepy hometown. Let’s hope the creator’s wish to let Uncle and his grandmother continue their quiet life together is the happy ending this viral story will get.

To view the video (no subtitles yet), state media outlet China Daily posted it to YouTube on Tuesday (embedded below):

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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