Authoritarianism? There’s an app for that

By Matt Field | April 10, 2019

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Credit: via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 4.0. Cropped. Chinese President Xi Jinping. Credit: via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 4.0. Cropped.

Add a hit app that teaches all things Xi Jinping to the ways China is breaking ground in high-tech propaganda, surveillance, and repression. Chairman Mao Zedong famously had a book of quotations popularly known as the Little Red Book. Now Chinese President Xi Jinping has a polished, multimedia mobile app replete with Xi quizzes, Xi news, and even Xi TV programming.

The Chinese Communist Party’s Propaganda Department produced the app to promote itself and Xi. The New York Times reports it is the top download on Apple’s Chinese digital store. The Times translates the title of the app as Study the Great Nation. One analyst told the paper the app is being published as many Chinese have come to view propaganda as “stilted and irrelevant.”

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Designed in partnership with Chinese tech behemoth Alibaba, the app allows users to gain points by viewing content and taking quizzes. The news feature is based on Jinri Toutiao, a popular service that offers users a customized selection of content from a range of media, reports TechCrunch. Study the Great Nation, meanwhile, also provides users choice—in this case, content from 18 state media sources.

But interest in the app is not entirely voluntary. According to the Times, the party has required “thousands of officials across China to ensure that the app penetrates the daily routines of as many citizens as possible, whether they like it or not.” Government offices have ordered party members to download the app and many workplaces require or pressure employees to use it.

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China analyst Kristin Shi-Kupfer told TechCrunch organic interest in the app was likely very low: “Probably only a very small portion was initiated by a real interest,” she said. “This app will probably drop out of the rankings of any app store soon.”

Publication Name: The New York Times
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