BEIJING — Call it the Little Red App.
Part social platform, part indoctrination tool, a new smartphone app called Study the Great Nation represents the latest effort by the Chinese Communist Party to bring its propaganda initiatives into the mobile age.
So far, it seems to be working. Study the Great Nation recently became the most downloaded app on Apple’s app store in China, and on several app stores that cater to phones running Android as well.
Not all of the enthusiasm appears to have arisen organically, however. Since the app’s release at the beginning of the year, Communist Party branches at universities and local governments have arranged for administrators to guide and monitor party members as they use the app for political education, according to announcements on official websites.
Study the Great Nation, which was produced by the central government’s Publicity Department, has polish and sheen enough to match any of China’s popular news and entertainment apps. Most of those apps are not focused so narrowly, however, on all things Xi Jinping, the country’s leader.
In Study the Great Nation, you can catch up on the latest state media reports on Mr. Xi’s decisions, savor a quote of the day from Mr. Xi or brush up on “Xi Jinping Thought.” You can quiz yourself on Mr. Xi’s policies and pronouncements, or take in a television show called “Xi Time,” which is … well, you get the picture.
Doing each of these activities can reward users with “study points,” which can be redeemed for gifts in future versions of the app.
Other sections of the app allow you to organize your calendar, manage your to-do list and schedule events.
Is there a social element? Of course there is. Study the Great Nation is integrated with DingTalk, a messaging app made by the e-commerce giant Alibaba. As a result, you can call or text your friends in the app, host video hangouts and even send messages that disappear, Snapchat-style, after they are read.
Over the past few years, the Communist Party has deployed patriotic rap songs, slickly produced talk shows and quirky smartphone games to try to hook Chinese youth on its ideology and teachings. It is not always easy to tell how such efforts are received, and whether they merely come across as forced.
In the case of Study the Great Nation, ratings and reviews for the app are currently disabled in Apple’s app store. But App Annie, an analytics firm, has preserved 497 reviews that had been submitted to Apple’s store as of Tuesday.
They are not kind, by and large. Many are laced with dry sarcasm. The average rating is 2.7 stars out of five.
“Everybody is installing this app voluntarily,” wrote one reviewer who gave the app one star. “Nobody is forcing us.”
“This software is great,” says another one-star review. “I downloaded it completely voluntarily. I like to study.”
Carolyn Zhang and Albee Zhang contributed research.