The Chinese Communist Party is doubling down on shaping its society by adding a gamified app as part of its soon-to-be mandatory Social Credit System (SCS).
China launched the app, called Xué Xí Qiáng Guó (“Study Xi, Strengthen China”), at the start of this year. It appears to support the SCS, which all Chinese must opt into by 2020 (I touched on the SCS in this earlier CultureWizard blog). The Hong Kong Free Press reported on the connection between the app and SCS, writing that the app promotes “Xi Jinping Thought” (Xi Jinping is General Secretary of China’s Communist Party).
Similar to the SCS, the new app reinforces awareness of core Chinese cultural values, such as collectivism, national pride, education, status, achievement and competition, all in service of generating appreciation and "compliance" to the Party in a modern, gamified manner. The Hong Kong Free Pressarticle explains that, "Along with a steady stream of Xi quotes and state media reports, the app—which has already been downloaded tens of millions of times—incorporates quizzes and other opportunities for users to earn 'Xi study points' that can be cashed in for real-world prizes. Importantly, one accumulates points not only for consuming information, but also for sharing articles with friends."
This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the May 4th Movement, an important anti-imperial and political movement that led China to communism. I suspect the release of this app shortly before this anniversary is not a coincidence.
The way in which you can earn points is also interesting. According to the “What’s on Weibo” website, here are a few ways to earn:
▪ Upon registering for the app, you receive 1 point.
▪ For every article or essay you read, you get 1 point.
▪ For every video you watch, you get 1 point.
▪ The time you spend on the app is also rewarded with points: for every 4 minutes of reading, you get 1 point (max 8 points per day).
▪ If you score 100% on a quiz, you get 10 points.
Rewards programs are an already proven way to garner human engagement across any number of services, platforms, products and beyond. From frequent flier or hotel programs to a cultural-reinforcement political and ideological app like Xué Xí Qiáng Guó, the act of collecting things like “study points” is akin to amassing wealth or value of a specific kind. The belief in the value of the thing collected is key. What are “Xi study points” worth? Apparently, you can use them to make a variety of purchases online. The Hong Kong Free Pressnotes that “material rewards for high scores include the ability to rent bikes without a deposit, discounts on heating, and eligibility for bank loans.” It’s remarkable how much the act of collecting things of perceived value can compel people to do almost anything in order to collect.
Important questions include: How will usage of the app feed into one's score on the SCS? How will older Chinese generations react to the new app vis-a-vis younger, internet-age generational cohorts? And how will the app influence Chinese citizens’ behavior, in terms of both conforming to government-backed cultural conventions or calling out those who do not?
We'll certainly keep our eye on this very Chinese cultural phenomenon.