That China has built a parallel cyberspace is no longer news. That has done so by blocking the most successful foreign companies and promoting the local copies, either. But in the parallel reality that is the Chinese Internet ecosystem, in which new local technological giants that now seek to battle globally have been born, there is still room for surprises. The last one is called Xuexi Qiangguo, and it is the work of Alibaba. Literally, it means learn a powerful country, but the name plays with the character xi, which is also the surname of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.
And is that Xuexi Qiangguo serves to delve deeply into the doctrine of the chief executive who has more power in the Asian giant since the founder of the People's Republic, Mao Zedong. Last year, Xi managed to eliminate the limit of two mandates that constrained the presidential power, and has been cultivating a cult of personality that is reflected everywhere: with large posters in which he appears waving and with propaganda placards that reproduce his most famous phrases on the streets, and with his omnipresence in the press.
Now, Xi has gone a step further and has sneaked a big way in the smartphone of hundreds of thousands of Chinese. Some have even acquired their first terminal just to use the new app. At least, that's what Wu Meisheng, 66, told the newspaper Guangming Daily. So, Xuexi Qiangguo, which was launched in January, is the most downloaded application these days in the local App Store, and also one of the most successful in Chinese platforms for Android, a much more fragmented system in this country because of the veto that prevents Google Play from operating in its territory.
In RETINA we have installed it – it weighs nothing less than 270 MB – to check how it works. First you have to verify the identity of the user through the phone number. From there, the app becomes a kind of aggregator of documents, news, and videos that detail different points of the doctrine of Xi and the socialism with Chinese characteristics. To get an idea of the content that compiles the application, a section is enough: The golden date of the day provides extracts from speeches delivered by the president.
Users are achieving points with reading and viewing these links. One point for each day that the application opens; a point for each article read, and another additional point for every four minutes dedicated to reading the texts; a point for each video viewed, and another additional point for every five minutes dedicated to the clips; a point for each account to which the user subscribes among the recommended ones – they are all of the official media and then there are platforms for the study of communist values in each province-; a point for every two articles or videos shared on social networks; a point for each comment in the texts and clips with a maximum of five points per day; and, finally, the main course: exams of Xiism in which you can achieve up to 10 points. But you have to be careful, because if you do not pass the first one, there are no more opportunities.
What all those points are for, apart from showing the time that has been exposed to the propaganda of the Communist Party, is still an unknown. Because the section of the app for the use of points is still in construction. But everything points to that they can be exchanged for something. Users can also send themselves messages that self-destruct as in Snapchat, as well as videoconferences or send money using Alipay. Interestingly, as soon as it is installed, there is also information that, theoretically, has nothing to do, such as online stores registered in the user's name.
Up to here, everything normal. Everyone is very free to read what they want. Or maybe not. Because the problem lies in the information that suggests that this application may owe its success to its non-optional character among the almost 90 million members of the Communist Party. According to different local media, the political hegemonic formation in China has launched a campaign that forces some of its members to install the app and open it daily. Local Party committees even lend themselves to teaching how to use it through different means, from chats to home visits.
"I have already achieved 500 points. All my family is using the app, and we discuss the content when we return home to compete and see who gets the most points. That causes us to want to absorb more and more knowledge, "Ding Zehua, secretary of the Party in the northern county of Jinxiang, told the Guangming Daily enthusiastically. However, there are also those who are concerned about the use that the Party can make to the points, especially in the case of those who have few.
"The company requires us to achieve 40 points a day. As I have not succeeded, I have been criticized ", commented a Weibo user who writes under the pseudonym junshengwoweishou. "If we do not download it, will someone invite us to a tea?", Replies another Internet user using a formula that can be translated as 'having an unfriendly chat'. "Before I used to entertain myself on the toilet with Weibo – the Chinese Twitter – now I do it with Xuexi Qiangguo", ironized a third user. However, it is difficult to find criticism of the application in an increasingly oppressive political climate, although its score in the App Store is less than three points out of five.
A Shanghai Treasury official, who is also a member of the Party – something she shows on a plaque on her desk – talks to RETINA on condition of anonymity. She recognizes that she has installed the application, although she assures that nobody has forced her to do so. "They still have not told us anything, but as I think they will, I've started earning points."
The young woman admits that she worries about the possibility that the result of the app "may have some kind of impact on work", but underlines that it does not seem like a bad idea for Party members to delve into the country's policies. "Many want the card only to try to achieve work benefits, but I understand that it entails some obligations, including knowing what the Party promulgates. Doing it on the mobile is practical, and the point system can be entertaining. "