Digital Maoism

Chairman Mao is back, and this time he has got a “smart phone.”

The label “neo-Maoism” for the ideology and practices of President Xi Jinping can be misleading. He maintains both the criticism of the Cultural Revolution formulated by his post-Mao predecessors and their unabashedly pro-capitalist attitude towards the economy. In fact, anti-capitalist students who tried to manifest hailing Mao and Karl Marx were immediately arrested.

A new app for smart phones, the use of which is “mandatory” for CCP members, takes the “personality cult” of President Xi Jinping to new, “unprecedented” heights.

Yet, there is something in common between Xi and Mao: “the personality cult.” Sometimes, Xi returns to the old personality cult of Chairman Mao. More often, he promotes the personality cult of himself. His portraits are ubiquitous in China, but Xi has something Mao did not have: “the Internet and smart phones.”

2019 is being celebrated by Chinese media as the year of a “digital revolution” in CCP propaganda. Even in the West, publicity often suggests that, if you do not “download” a certain application, you are a loser. This is literally true in China: “If you do not download and use a specific application, you may lose your job.”

The Orwellian story reads like a “dystopian” novel but is unfortunately true. In January 2019, the CCP launched a new app available for both Apple and Android platforms, “Xi Study (Xue Xi) Strong Nation” (学习强国), available from the Web site xuexi.cn.

The name needs to be explained, as it includes a word game in Chinese. “Xi” is the President’s last name but is also the second character in the Chinese word “xuexi” (学习), which means “to study.” The implication is that the study of the President’s “utterances” is the most important study of them all.

Apple, which is “censoring” hundreds of applications in China quickly obliged, as did the other platforms; and the app is now up and running at full speed, courtesy of the “Propaganda and Public Opinion Research Center of the Central Propaganda Department of the CCP” (中共中央宣传部宣传舆情研究中心), once known as the “CCP’s Research Center on Ideology and Political Work” (思想政治工作研究所).

It includes speeches and writings of President Xi, in “text, audio, and video” forms. But it also includes something else. Users gain “points” by using the application. This is called the “Xi Study Points” system (学习积分系统). The system is “clever but not generous.” As reported by the specialized web site China Media Project, reading one article earns you only 0.1 points. The same applies to posting an appropriate comment. Watching a single video earns you 0.1  points. Thirty minutes of sustained activity is rewarded with 1 point.

This is not all. There is a “surveillance” system, which according to China Media Project is quite effective, which would “watch you” and can tell if you “move away” from your screen after having launched a “text or video.” It can also tell if your eyes read only a “few” paragraphs rather than the “whole” text. And there is a “daily limit” for earning points, to make sure that you would not “use the app only on weekends.” Not that use on weekends is not encouraged.

The rules about “points” earned through different activities on the App and the “lively intervals,” or “happy hours” for “double points” have been updated, or “optimized” on January 29, 2019.

“Every day, the first log-in earns 1 point; reading one article or watching one video earns 1 point, doubled at happy hours, but no more than 6 points per day can be earned for each activity; every 4 minutes of reading earns 1 point, doubled at happy hours, with a maximum of 8 per day; every 5 minutes of watching videos earns 1 point, doubled at happy hours, with a maximum of 10 per day; posting an appropriate comment earns 1 point, with a maximum of 5 per day; some other activities like taking exams can also earn points.

The “happy hours” is set at 6:00—8:30, 12:00—14:00, 20:00—22:30 every day. We understand the quota system mentioned in the Douban post refers to this “optimized” system of calculating points. The CCP wants you to sleep and be effective at work the next day. With this system, the CCP effectively colonizes most of the app users’ free time.”

But, after all, one can simply not use the app and not participate in the “silly competition” of earning Xi points, right? Wrong. The use of the app is “mandatory” for all CCP members. And many workplaces impose a “daily or weekly” quota of Xi points. If we believe a post on the social networking site Douban, in a public school, teachers have been requested to fulfill the “crazy quota” of 40 Xi points per day.

This is impossible without staying long hours at night without sleeping, and the post also outlines some possible strategies to “cheat” the system—but, obviously, the CCP reads these posts too and will release updates with more built-in “anti-cheating” software. Mandatory seminars on how to properly use the app have been organized all over China, with the clear message that those caught “cheating or not fulfilling their quotas may lose their jobs or worse.”

This may be too much even for the high “CCP cadres”, who are not “exempted” from using the app. Some months ago, all of a sudden the “portraits” of Xi Jinping disappeared from the CCP offices in several villages and cities. They soon reappeared, but some believed it was a “mafia-style” message from senior CCP bureaucrats to Xi Jinping: “do not exaggerate, or else.”

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Filed under chinese culture, workplace insights

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