A propaganda app that puts China's powerful President Xi Jinping in anyone's pockets has become a hit in the country -- with a helpful nudge from Communist Party officials.

‘Xi cult’ app is China’s red hot hit

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by Poornima WEERASEKARA / Agence France-Presse

A propaganda app that puts China’s powerful President Xi Jinping in anyone’s pockets has become a hit in the country — with a helpful nudge from Communist Party officials.

Millions have downloaded the app, which tracks the amount of time users spend browsing inspirational quotes from the Chinese leader and watching short videos of his speeches and travels.

People are rewarded with points for sharing articles or answering quizzes on Communist heroes, and one day they may be able to redeem their scores for gifts such as pastries and tablets.

But it’s not all fun and games. Some people say they felt pressured to download it, others hope it can help their careers, and local government officials have been heavily promoting it.

The app’s name — “Xuexi Qiangguo” or “Study to Make China strong” — is a pun as the Chinese word for studying, Xuexi, can also be read as “Study Xi”.

It has been downloaded nearly 44 million times on Apple and Android devices since its launch in January, according to Beijing-based statistics provider Qimai Technology.

“It’s a perfect example of propaganda in the Xi era… that appeals to China’s large online population,” said Manya Koetse, who tracks social trends in China as editor of What’s on Weibo.

“The party will go wherever the people are.”

– ‘Xi cult’ –
Xi, who could rule indefinitely after parliament lifted presidential term limits last year, has enjoyed a level of officially stoked adulation unseen since Communist China’s founder Mao.

The party’s propaganda arm has become tech-savvy in its battle for the country’s hearts and minds, delivering its message through rap songs, comics and stickers on popular messaging app WeChat.

Last May, it launched another free app called “Learn about China”, featuring Xi’s first book along with academic papers analysing his views.

The new app gives users access to thousands of books, magazines, newspapers, university publications and TV serials and movies.

Users must register with their mobile phone number and name their employer.

An employee at a state media company said she posts her scores on her WeChat social media account because she is in line for a promotion and hopes her bosses will see she has “the right mindset”.

“It’s a way to get some brownie points,” she told AFP.

One state worker said she felt under pressure to use the app, although it was not officially mandatory for civil servants.

A doctor at a state hospital in Beijing, who only gave her last name Xu, said she had her parents use the app to take quizzes and read articles on her behalf.

“Our scores are valid for two years and I am not sure whether they’ll be useful (for my career) later,” she added.

Li Xin, who works for a state-run oil company, said it promotes a “Xi cult”.

– Bad reviews –
Dozens of provincial and county governments across the country have held workshops to promote the app in recent weeks, local media reports showed.

Beijing’s municipal propaganda department chief Du Feijin told a workshop last week that the app was a “powerful starting point for implementing the spirit of the important instructions of General Secretary Xi”, state-run newspaper Beijing News reported.

Even China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba, whose founder Jack Ma is a Communist Party member, is making a contribution: job ads on the company’s website shows it has been hiring software developers to work on the app.

While “Study Xi” became the top app in Apple’s China app store last month, it only managed to get an average rating of 2.4 stars out of five. Ratings and reviews for the app were disabled last week.

But analytics firm App Annie has preserved nearly 500 reviews — many with a hint of sarcasm — submitted by Apple users in previous weeks.

“It’s totally voluntary,” quipped one reviewer who gave the app one star.

“My employer wants us to learn enough to get 35 credits every day… So we have no choice but to carry our children with one hand and our phones with the other and chase points with no life,” wrote another.

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Covid’s impact could mean millions more child marriages: Unicef

The outsized impact Covid-19 has had on women in some countries could result in an additional 10 million child marriages in this decade, according to a new analysis released Monday by Unicef.

“School closures, economic stress, service disruptions, pregnancy and parental deaths due to the pandemic are putting the most vulnerable girls at increased risk of child marriage,” said a study titled “Covid-19: A threat to progress against child marriage.”

That trend, if confirmed, would represent a serious retreat from recent years of progress against child marriage.

In the last 10 years, according to the study, the proportion of young women globally who were married as children had declined by 15 percent, from nearly one in four to one in five.

That progress “is now under threat,” said the study, released on International Women’s Day.

“Covid-19 has made an already difficult situation for millions of girls even worse,” said Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore.

“Shuttered schools, isolation from friends and support networks, and rising poverty have added fuel to a fire the world was already struggling to put out.”

Girls who marry in childhood, the study said, are more likely to experience domestic violence and less likely to remain in school. They face an increased risk of early and unplanned pregnancy, and maternal complications and mortality.

Isolation from family and friends can take “a heavy toll on their mental health.”

Meantime, pandemic-related travel restrictions and physical distancing have made it harder for girls “to access the health care, social services and community support that protect them from child marriage, unwanted pregnancy and gender-based violence,” while making it more likely that they drop out of school.

In addition, families facing economic hardship may seek to marry off their daughters to ease financial burdens.

The report estimates that 650 million girls and women alive today were married in childhood, about half of them in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, India or Nigeria.

Fore called for countries to reopen schools, implement legal reforms, ensure access to health and social services while providing measures to protect families.

By doing so, she said, “we can significantly reduce a girl’s risk of having her childhood stolen through child marriage.” © Agence France-Presse

China’s congress spins out bold and bizarre ideas

Widely viewed as a rubber-stamp for the nation’s Communist Party rulers, China’s annual parliament still spins out a barrage of bold and bizarre proposals which may hint at the thinking inside Beijing’s cloistered corridors of power.

The week-long political spectacle sees about 3,000 appointed lawmakers meet, while another 2,000-odd advisers discuss ideas on how to iron out wrinkles in China’s business and social fabric.

The latter group — known as the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), includes business tycoons such as Netease founder Ding Lei, Yao Ming of NBA fame, and technocrats such as Gao Fu, the head China’s centre for disease control.

Most of their proposals fall by the wayside, but some later emerge into law.

Here are a few recommendations that have made waves on Chinese social media:

– Lessons in love –

Can love be taught in the classroom? With fewer people tying the knot and not enough babies to power China’s economy, a government adviser thinks it is time college students got mandatory lessons in “romance and marriage”.

“Young people have very little understanding of how to face an emotional crisis or sexual problems,” Yu Xinwei, vice-president of Guangzhou University, said.

China’s divorce rate has soared in recent years, prompting lawmakers to introduce a 30-day cooling-off period before couples break up.

– Man camps –

Boys should be encouraged to play competitive sports such as football and basketball “to increase their masculinity”, reads a proposal by parliamentarian Xiong Sidong. “While girls should pursue rhythmic gymnastics, yoga and other exercises to increase their flexibility.”

According to him, Chinese boys are too “timid, quiet and dependent”, contrary to the “traditional qualities of manliness”, which has created “social and family problems”.

Such gender-differentiated classes would allow “natural and healthy development”, Xiong said.

The proposal met with derision online, with many saying children should be allowed to choose classes based on their interests and not their gender.

– Hacker stars –

The government should recognise hackers as “special talents” and take steps to “strengthen their loyalty to the nation”, said Zhou Hongyi, founder of internet security firm Qihoo 360 and a member of the advisory body.

State-sponsored hacking groups operating out of China have been accused of attempting to steal secrets from foreign businesses including Microsoft and Airbus and even causing a recent blackout in India’s financial hub Mumbai.

– Farewell to English? –

English is a compulsory subject offered from grades one through 12 in China’s national curriculum as the country seeks to upskill its population.

But a lawmaker thinks the hours spent learning a foreign language is “useless” given improvements in translation devices, and wants to cut it from the core curriculum.

“Students spend 10 percent of their time in school learning English, but it’s only useful for a minority,” said Xu Jin, a member of political group the Jiusan Society, who wants more time dedicated to subjects including Chinese and mathematics.

Online, many criticised the idea as narrow-minded populism.

– Cheaper chops –

The government should pay half the cost of pig breeding, according to Liu Yonghao, founder of agribusiness giant New Hope Group and a member of the advisory body.

African swine fever has battered the country’s hog population in recent years.

Half of the world’s pork is eaten in China and prices soared last year after nearly 100 million animals were culled.

– Vaccine passport –

Travelling to China requires a battery of coronavirus tests and weeks in quarantine.

A prominent lawyer and member of the advisory body Zhu Zhengfu has proposed a globally recognised vaccine passport to address these pain points.

Zhu told the Global Times that international arrivals could be exempt from quarantine requirements if they have a negative nucleic acid test and a vaccine passport.

People within China who get the jab could also travel freely without getting a painful nasal swab every time they leave their city, Zhu said. © Agence France-Presse

Pinoy pride! House adopts resolutions honoring 2 Fil-Ams in Biden admin

By Billy Begas

The House of Representatives on Monday adopted two resolutions congratulating two Filipino-Americans who were appointed by US President Joe Biden.

House Resolution 1513 congratulates Camille Calimlim Touton who was appointed as Deputy Commissioner of US Bureau of Reclamation in January 21, 2021.

“Touton’s appointment is historic as she became the first Filipino-American to serve in the agency’s leadership role,” the resolution authored by Pangasinan Rep. Christopher de Venecia read.

Touton is the daughter of Carl and Marlene Calimlim from Barangay Tebeng, Dagupan City.

Meanwhile, House Resolution 1613 congratulates Gloria Diño Steele who was appointed as acting administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

USAID is the leading agency of the US government implementing international development programs and disaster assistance.

Steele has received three US Presidential awards: one Presidential Meritorious Executive ward in 2007 and two Presidential Distinguished Executive Awards in 2008 and 2018. She also received the Order of Sikatuna Award form the Philippine President in 2015.

“For her achievements as an exemplary Filipino-American in the USAID, who envisioned a genuine commitment to help others live a better life, it is but fitting to commend and give honor to Ms. Gloria Diño Steele for representing the whole Filipino nation in the pursuit of a better Philippines and a peaceful world,” the resolution read.

The resolutions were approved during the celebration of Women’s Day at the House.

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