When asked what is China’s most popular mobile app, one might conjure up answers like WeChat, DiDi, Alipay, or Weibo. However, a new app is taking China by storm, one that’s red in face and at heart.
With a scarlet logo reading “study” in Chinese, or “study Xi” as an ingenious pun, the app aims at promoting the thoughts and teachings of Chairman Xi Jinping.
Launched in January 2019 by the central propaganda department, installation and use of the app is compulsory for Communist Party members, civil servants, teachers, employees of state-owned companies.
Xi’s Digital Red Book brings a modern twist on the iconic Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’. The Little Red Book is a book of statements from speeches and writings by Mao Zedong, the former Chairman of the Communist Party of China, published from 1964 to about 1976 and widely distributed during the Cultural Revolution. Much like Xi’s digitized successor, ownership of Mao’s Little Red Book was compulsory for all students, party members, PLA soldiers, factory workers, and civil servants.
Much of Mao’s teachings formed the ideological foundation for the Cultural Revolution, which saw widespread purges of “capitalists” and “counter-revolutionaries” in Chinese society. Across the country, millions of people were persecuted and suffered a wide range of abuses including public humiliation, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, hard labor, harassment, seizure of property and sometimes execution. Historical relics and artefacts were destroyed and cultural and religious sites were ransacked. By the time the Cultural Revolution ended, an estimated 500,000 to 2 million people were killed and China’s economic development was severely stalled.
While China’s ruling Communist Party has largely abandoned its Maoist past, the digitized Red Book demonstrates Xi Jinping’s intentions to forge a legacy of his own.
Users of the app are able to learn Xi’s thoughts, read state media news, take MOOC online learning courses and earn points based on their usage. These points accumulate and can be used as a point of reference for their employers and ultimately the Communist Party.
Xi’s grip on the party has only strengthened in recent years, in the wake of several high profile purges. In 2017, the party voted to commit his philosophy, called “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era”, to its constitution.
As China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, President Xi has followed suit to sell his philosophy nationwide. Since its launch, Xi’s app has climbed in the rankings in China’s App Store, surpassing digital giants like WeChat and TikTok.