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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 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 Digital

The Rise of Facial Recognition in China’s Real Estate Market

Some homebuyers counter the rise of facial recognition technology in real estate offices by wearing helmets during their visit.

Manya Koetse

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The issue of Chinese real estate agents using facial recognition techniques to collect information about their clients has sparked privacy concerns among Chinese social media users.

 
– By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Bobby Fung
 

A recent news report by Southern Metropolis Daily exposes how more and more real estate offices in China are working with facial recognition technologies to collect personal information about their prospective clients.

This is not the first time that the widespread use of facial-recognition techniques in the real estate industry receives attention in Chinese media. In 2019, some blogs already raised concerns over the use of such techniques and the negative impact it could have on homebuyers.

But why would the real estate industry benefit from buying expensive face recognition systems?

One reason is that these AI techniques could earn those within the industry a lot of money while reducing time-consuming conflicts over commission fees.

Using facial recognition within the real estate industry solves existing problems regarding the practice of commissions and splits in compensation, as the techniques can register when, where, and how often a certain client visited, and through which channels the eventual property purchase was made.

Besides the fact that the registration of biometric information violates the privacy of visitors, it could also mean they, as homebuyers, are losing out on big money. First-time visitors, not yet registered by the smart facial recognition cameras, can get much higher discounts.

The report by Southern Metropolis Daily claims that homebuyers could end up paying up to 300,000 yuan ($45,560) more when buying property if their face was previously recorded.

This is, among others, because agencies make a distinction between homebuyers who first come to view a property following a real estate agent’s own marketing campaign (a ‘natural visitor’ 自然到访客户) and those who have come through an intermediary (‘渠道客户’). In the latter case, the company also has to pay a commission fee to the intermediary.

This system has led to some potential homebuyers wearing helmets when visiting a real estate agency. Images of a certain ‘Brother Helmet’ (头盔哥) viewing property previously attracted attention online.

One of the companies that is mentioned by Southern Metropolis Daily as providing this kind of smart camera systems to companies is the Shenzhen-based Myunke (Mingyuan Yunke 明源云客), an internet company focusing on the “intelligent transformation and upgrading” of real estate marketing.

On Weibo, dozens of commenters suggest that the use of these techniques in China’s real estate industry is already widespread, with some sharing their own experiences as homebuyers and others saying: “I work in this industry, and it’s true.”

“Where’s our privacy?! This is too scary!”, others write, with some saying that the root of the problem lies in China’s “overly lax privacy protection.”

The ubiquity of commercial use of facial recognition has been attracting more attention recently amid rising privacy concerns.

One example is the use of built-in smart cameras by digital advertisement billboards, which measure customers’ reactions to advertisements. These digital billboard record, for example, if people look at the advertisement, how long they stay interested, and if they are male or female.

Earlier this week, a court in Hangzhou ordered a local wildlife park to delete the facial recognition data of one of its patrons, saying it was “unnecessary” and “lacked legitimacy.” An associate law professor at Zhejiang Sci-tech University named Guo Bing sued the safari park in 2019 for using mandatory facial recognition systems to register him and his wife as park visitors.

As reported by Sixth Tone, Guo decided to file this lawsuit on the grounds that the park had violated China’s consumer rights protection law by collecting sensitive personal information without the permission of its patrons.

In light of the heightened concerns around privacy and commercial use of facial recognition, a draft law to ban facial recognition systems in residential communities was recently submitted to the local legislation department in Hangzhou. This move may signal a stricter overview or even ban of mandatory collection of facial scans in residential areas.

Whether or not the use of facial recognition systems in real estate sales will be curbed any time soon is unclear. Some experts have pointed out, however, that the necessity and legitimacy of employing such techniques – which only protect the interests of the company and not the interest nor rights of the clients – is highly questionable.

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.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Insight

Shandong Woman Dies after Suffering Abuse by In-Laws over Infertility

Anger over Shandong abuse case: “Is this how the law protects women?!”

Manya Koetse

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The only photo of the victim on social media is a childhood photo.

Just a month after the tragic story of a Chinese vlogger being killed by her husband triggered outrage on social media, another extreme domestic abuse case has gone trending on Weibo.

This time, it concerns the story of the 22-year-old woman named Fang Yangyang (方洋洋) who lived in Fangzhuang village in Dezhou, Shandong Province. The woman passed away in 2019 after suffering prolonged abuse by her husband and in-laws. Chinese media report that the abuse was related to Fang’s infertility issues.

Fang married her husband Zhang Bing (张丙) in November of 2016. It was an arranged marriage, with Zhang’s parents paying a bride price of 130,000 yuan (almost $20,000).

When Fang did not get pregnant after marrying her husband, she started suffering severe emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her husband and in-laws, beginning in July of 2018. Zhang and his parents reportedly beat Fang with wooden rods, refused to let her eat, locked her up, and let her freeze outside in the cold.

The in-law’s house on November 17, photo by Beijing News / Qiao Chi

Fang, who weighed 180 pounds (80 kilograms) when she got married, only weighed 60 pounds (30 kilograms) in early 2019. Beijing News reports that Fang, malnourished and weak, died on January 31st 2019 after suffering another beating by her in-laws.

The case received more attention on social media this week as the local Yucheng People’s Court (山东禹城法院) reviewed the case after an earlier verdict in January. The retrial is set to take place on November 27.

In January 2020, the court sentenced Fang’s husband and his parents for the crime of abuse. The victim’s father-in-law, Zhang Jilin (张吉林), received three years in prison, her mother-in-law, Liu Lanying (刘兰英), got 26 months in prison, and her husband’s sentence was suspended with a three-year probation time, as reported by Sixth Tone and China Daily.

The relatively light punishments triggered anger on Weibo, where the hashtag “Woman Suffers Abuse by In-Laws for Being Infertile and Dies” (#山东一女子因不孕遭婆家虐待致死#) has been trending for days, along with other similar hashtags (#女子因不孕被夫家虐待致死案重审#, #山东女子因不孕被虐待致死#).

A statement issued by Yucheng People’s Court said the court gave the defendants lighter punishment because they were truthful about their crimes and, in advance, paid a voluntary compensation of 50,000 yuan ($7630). The verdict will now be withdrawn.

In an interview with Southcn.com, Fang’s cousin stated the family had contacted police before when Fang’s in-laws would not allow the family to see her. The second time they contacted the police was after Fang had died.

Sources close to the family state that Fang’s mother had been diagnosed with a mental condition, with Fang allegedly also showing signs of mental disability, although this has not been verified by official sources. There are also sources claiming that the father-in-law, Zhang Jilin, was a heavy drinker who would get aggressive when drunk.

On social media, many people are outraged. “I just don’t understand it!”, one person writes: “It’s just because of societal pressure that this case is now going on retrial. But this is not justice!”

Public anger about the case grew louder due to another case trending at the same time, in which a Shenzhen mother who beat her 12-year-old daughter to death received a ten-year prison sentence (#母亲失手打死12岁女儿获刑十年#).

“This is unimaginable,” one Weibo user wrote: “Isn’t the idea of sentencing someone to actually punish them?!”

“This pains me so much, is this the actual society we’re living in?”

Besides the anger over China’s criminal justice system when it comes to domestic violence, there are also those who express disgust over the fact that the Zhang family apparently arranged a marriage for the sole purpose of producing offspring. “Are we still living in the Qing Dynasty?”

Many of the comments online are similar to those that flooded social media after the death of Lamu: “Is this how the law protects women?!”

We will report more on this story after November 27.

By Manya Koetse

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.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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