CHANGSHA, China — Inside a fishing gear store on a busy city street, the owner sits behind a counter, furiously tapping a smartphone to improve his score on an app that has nothing to do with rods, reels and bait.

The owner, Jiang Shuiqiu, a 35-year-old army veteran, has a different obsession: earning points on Study the Great Nation, a new app devoted to promoting President Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party — a kind of high-tech equivalent of Mao’s Little Red Book. Mr. Jiang spends several hours daily on the app, checking news about Mr. Xi and brushing up on socialist theories.

Tens of millions of Chinese workers, students and civil servants are now using Study the Great Nation, often under pressure from the government. It is part of a sweeping effort by Mr. Xi to strengthen ideological control in the digital age and reassert the party’s primacy, as Mao once did, as the center of Chinese life.

“We must love our country,” said Mr. Jiang, one of the top scorers on the app in Changsha, the capital of the southern province of Hunan. “We are getting stronger and stronger.”

While many people have embraced the app as a form of patriotism, others see it as a burden imposed by overzealous officials and another sign of a growing personality cult around Mr. Xi, perhaps China’s most powerful leader since Mao’s time.

“He is using new media to fortify loyalty toward him,” said Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing. He likened Study the Great Nation to the little booklet of Mao quotations that was widely circulated during the chaotic and violent Cultural Revolution.

Since its launch this year, Study the Great Nation has become the most downloaded app on Apple’s digital storefront in China, with the state news media saying it has more than 100 million registered users — a reach that would be the envy of any new app’s creators.

But those numbers are driven largely by the party, which ordered thousands of officials across China to ensure that the app penetrates the daily routines of as many citizens as possible, whether they like it or not.

Schools are shaming students with low app scores. Government offices are holding study sessions and forcing workers who fall behind to write reports criticizing themselves. Private companies, hoping to curry favor with party officials, are ranking employees based on their use of the app and awarding top performers the title of “star learner.”

Many employers now require workers to submit daily screenshots documenting how many points they have earned.

“Loyalty to the party,” Mr. Bandurski said, “means loyalty to Xi Jinping.”

Study the Great Nation in some ways harkens back to the Mao era, when the chairman’s portrait hung in living rooms and families studied his words feverishly. While Mr. Xi cannot yet match Mao’s grandeur, he has borrowed from Mao’s playbook in his quest to be seen as a singular, transformative force.

The app features a television series called “Xi Time” and Mr. Xi’s quotations on topics like building a strong military and achieving a “Chinese dream” of prosperity and strength. The app recommends stories about Mr. Xi on its home screen and sends push notifications highlighting “golden sentences” from his latest speeches. Even the Chinese name for the app is a play on Mr. Xi’s name.

The app, which also offers lighter fare about traditional Chinese culture, history and geography, presents a censored version of current events. Topics such as China’s mass detention of Muslims are not included.

At Hulunbuir University in northern China, school officials monitor the scores of more than 1,100 teachers and students who use the app as part of the school’s efforts to spread Mr. Xi’s ideas, known in China as Xi Jinping Thought.

“Everyone studies voluntarily and has very high scores,” said Bai Mei, an ideology instructor at the university.

Not everyone is as enthusiastic. In interviews, students and workers complained that superiors publicly chastised them for low scores. Others said bosses threatened to deduct pay or withhold bonuses if they did not use the app more frequently. They did not want to provide their names for fear of punishment, but some have complained online.

“What kind of phenomenon is this?” one user wrote on Weibo, a popular social media site, complaining of a salary deduction. “My God, what has happened to the party now?”

A screen grab from the Study the Great Nation app. Since its introduction this year, it has become the most downloaded app on Apple’s digital storefront in China.

Critics say Mr. Xi is intruding into the private lives of Chinese citizens in a way the party has typically avoided since the Mao era. The app makes the party’s messages difficult to ignore, awarding points only when an article has been read completely and a video has been watched for at least three minutes.

“You cannot divert attention away from it,” said Haiqing Yu, a professor who studies Chinese media at RMIT University in Australia. “It’s a kind of digital surveillance. It brings the digital dictatorship to a new level.”

The app, which was developed by the party’s Propaganda Department and the technology giant Alibaba, is available on the Apple app store as well as Android app stores in China. The Propaganda Department keeps user data.

It is unclear how closely the government tracks users of Study the Great Nation, but the app requires people to provide a mobile number to register and a national identification number to access videoconference and chat features.

The Propaganda Department declined to comment, as did Alibaba, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Given the pressures to use the app, a cheating industry involving at least a dozen products has flourished. A man who listed his contact information in an online advertisement for cheating software said in an interview that many of his more than 1,000 customers saw the app as a burden imposed by bosses. He declined to provide his name for fear of retribution.



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