China’s wildly popular propaganda app is quizzing and tracking citizens

Illustration by Max Fleishman

‘Mom is already approaching  50, her eyes aren’t so good anymore…’

A Chinese government-approved smartphone app that tracks users while demanding they actively consume Communist Party content was released earlier this year as part of the state’s ongoing propaganda efforts.

Known as Xuexi Qiangguowhich translates to “Study (Xi) Powerful Country,” the app was created by the aptly named Propaganda and Public Opinion Research Center of the Central Propaganda Department of the CCP. It’s designed to provide Chinese citizens with a wide array of games, quizzes, and other interactive media that promotes both Communist ideals and the policies of President Xi Jinping.

The app works by awarding points to users who do anything from reading state-run media stories and essays to sharing content with friends.

Upon signing up, users are required to provide their full name and phone number, giving the state an insight into their activity.

And while Xuexi Qiangguo has become one of the most downloaded free apps on China’s app store reports indicate that many users have been forced to use the app by their employers and local governments. According to Reuters, it’s been downloaded more than 75 million times since going live this year—and there is likewise no shortage of similar propaganda apps available in China’s app store.

As noted by the China Media Project, an individual discussing the app on social media recently stated that her mother, who works in teaching, had been forced to obtain a minimum of 40 points daily by education officials.

“Mom is already approaching  50, her eyes aren’t so good anymore, and for someone so unfamiliar with how to use a smartphone earning 40 points was for her an extremely difficult thing,” the user wrote. “Moreover, this app makes quite total demands on one’s time, and by nature is extremely intrusive, so that it’s virtually impossible to operate it simultaneously while one reads a book or otherwise relaxes.”

While older users have struggled to use the app, some younger participants have found ways to game the system. Manya Koetse, a journalist who follows social media trends in China, notes how different tricks are shared online for gaining points without putting in the work. In one example, users discovered that points were awarded for watching videos even if they just immediately scrolled to the end.

But just how popular is the app among the Chinese people? Koetse notes a disconnect between the government’s claims and the public’s reviews.

“If the headlines in Chinese and non-Chinese media are to be believed, the majority of Chinese internet users are getting hooked on the app,” Koetse writes. “That picture is perhaps the rose-colored one the Party would like to envision, but judging from social media comments and app ratings, reactions have been somewhat lukewarm.”

Unsurprisingly, the comment section for the app on the Chinese Apple store has also been disabled.

The app is just one of many tools the Communist Party is relying on to attract the next generation of Chinese people into its ideology. The Chinese government has even gone as far as to release English-language rap videos in an attempt to entice young people.

Although Chinese citizens in previous decades were able to avoid state propaganda during their personal time, the digital era has given the state an unprecedented ability to bombard its citizens with pro-government talking points around the clock.

H/T China Media Project

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Mikael Thalen

Mikael Thalen

Mikael Thalen is a tech and security reporter based in Seattle, covering social media, data breaches, hackers, and more.