The CCP's Learning / Learning Xi (Thought) app

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A couple of nights ago, I had dinner with one of my students from China and his parents, both of whom are members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  The father is a doctor and has to work 10 hours a day, during which he sees a hundred patients every day.  Most of them are suffering from diabetes.  At the end of his long day, the father is required (i.e., not optional) to log into the Party's Xuéxí / Xué Xi 学习 ("Learning / Learn Xi [Thought]") app — full name "Xuéxí / Xué Xi qiángguó 学习强国" ("Learning / Learn Xi [Thought]" to strengthen the nation"), which was launched in the early part of 2015.

The user of this app is presented with a large variety of topics and problems that he has to read about and then ponder a series of questions concerning the ones he has chosen.  By the end of each session, he must get 30 points by answering lots of questions, and he must not make many wrong answers.  If he does not achieve a score of 30 points in each session, he can get in serious trouble with the political bosses in the hospital (or other "unit" [dānwèi 单位])  where he works.  Interacting with the Xuéxí / Xué Xi 学习 ("Learning / Learn Xi [thought]") app is tiring, time-consuming, and stressful.  For my student's father and other Party members in the hospital where he works, it is mandatory.

I forget the exact figure, but the father must also regularly pay "dues / fees" to the CCP, and they amount to a not inconsiderable sum.  I think he said that he paid around 600 RMB per month, which would be about $75 (the percentage exacted varies depending upon one's income; most people I know who are Party members pay 2% or thereabouts).  This is above and beyond the Individual Income Tax (IIT) (gèrén suǒdéshuì 个人所得税) that he has to pay yearly.

The mother is also a CCP member, but in quite a different category.  In her case, she does not have to log into the Xuéxí / Xué Xi 学习 ("Learning / Learn Xi [thought]") app every day, and she doesn't have to pay the steep Party dues / fees.  I asked how she could escape from these onerous burdens.  It turns out that it was the result of the economic restructuring and "reform" that took place during the mid-90s, when many of China's SOEs (State-Owned Enterprises [guóyǒu qǐyè 国有企业]) collapsed and were disbanded.  The bigger wave in terms of the number of firms closed and workers fired was 93-98 under Zhu Rongji, when he was executive Vice Premier.  After that, firms were mainly merged.  Bill Hurst lays this out nicely in his book, The Chinese Worker after Socialism (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

The mother worked for one of the SOEs that were closed down, so when she lost her job there, she started her own small business in the same field.  People in that category — former employees of SOEs — are second-class Party members, so don't have the privilege of being subjected to the Xuéxí / Xué Xi 学习 ("Learning / Learn Xi [thought]") app every day, nor do they have to pay Party fees / dues without fail.

It's not just Party members who are required to download and use the Xuéxí / Xué Xi 学习 ("Learning / Learn Xi [thought]") app.  All citizens who wish to ingratiate themselves with the CCP are enjoined to do so (see here, here, here, here, here, and here).

I looked at the Xuéxí / Xué Xi 学习 ("Learning / Learn Xi [thought]") app in considerable detail and must say that it is devilishly demanding.  The fact that all first-class CCP members are subjected to this daily brainwashing (many Chinese now use this term — xǐnăo 洗脑 [literally "wash brain"] — to describe what is going on in China today [teachers, students, and others are undergoing similar techniques of indoctrination]) constitutes a curious inversion of the term, which was originally popularized in the early 1950s by American and British analysts to explain why American POWs in the Korean War cooperated with their Chinese captors.

Reading

"The Dawn of the Little Red Phone", by David Bandurski , China Media Project (Feb 13, 2019)

[Thanks to Victor Shih]



29 Comments

  1. Victor Mair said,

    May 25, 2019 @ 9:05 am

    I asked several of my students how to say and write "app" in Chinese. This is the first reply I received:

    =====

    We refer to an app as "app". It is called "yìngyòng chéngxù 应用程序" or "yìngyòng 应用" in Chinese. The written language will call it "yìngyòng chéngxù 应用程序", and I feel like APP is used in a more oral way. For example, the Huawei APP Store is called "Huáwèi yìngyòng shāngdiàn 华为应用商店" in the phone. And I notice that the correct pronunciation is /æp/, but lots of people in China just pronounce "A" "P" "P"(/e/ /pi:/ /pi:/).

    =====

  2. Victor Mair said,

    May 25, 2019 @ 10:45 am

    From another student:

    =====

    I usually refer to an app as "app", while there is indeed a way to formally refer to an app as "yìngyòng chéngxù 应用程序." But the problem is just like in NBA and its Chinese translation, "Měiguó nánzǐ zhíyè lánqiú liánsài 美国男子职业篮球联赛", it is too clumsy to speak out. I don't see many opportunities to write the word app on paper, but I guess I will simply write it down as app.

    =====

    From a third student:

    =====

    I think some call it EI-PE-PE (pronouncing every single letter separately) rather than the app. It is written as "app." Others may call it yingyong (应用) and write it 应用.

    =====

  3. Victor Mair said,

    May 25, 2019 @ 10:46 am

    From a student whose father I met a couple of years ago and who was then lackadaisical about Party dues and duties — apparently things are quite different now):

    My Dad is a CCP member. I confirmed with him that he has to submit around 200 RMB (around 29 USD) membership fee monthly. This is deducted from his salary based on certain calculation method devised by shàngmiàn 上面 ("those above; superiors").

    Recently shàngmiàn 上面 ("those above; superiors") also make every party member to learn Xi's great thoughts and ideas through the app "xuéxí / xué Xí 学习". Each person will have to fulfill several hours learning to gain a point, which is strangely linked to the assessment of his/her daily work.

    It is said that the app "xuéxí / xué Xí 学习" is created by a team in Alibaba, one of the largest private companies in China.

  4. Gene Buckley said,

    May 25, 2019 @ 11:23 am

    Those puzzled by this rather compressed notation:
    Xuéxí / Xué Xi 学习 ("Learning / Learn Xi [thought]")
    can click through to the source article for more context.

    The slash separates two possible interpretations — an established compound ("learning, study", literally "learn + practice") versus a more novel phrase ("learn Xi"). Presumably the designers meant to suggest the two interpretations at once.

    When Xi is romanized as a separate capitalized word (with tone, Xí), it refers to general secretary Xi Jinping, and thus the second interpretation is more verbosely "learn the thoughts of Xi Jinping". I would think the pronunciation is the identical under either interpretation, although experts can weigh in on that.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    May 25, 2019 @ 1:22 pm

    @Gene Buckley

    Thanks for the expanded explanation, which is exactly right.

    As for how to pronounce xuéxí ("learn") vs. xué Xí ("learn from Xi Jinping"), both written 学习 in Sinographs, I would make the second syllable of the former lighter (deemphasizing its second tone, but not quite making it into a neutral tone). Compare the way it is pronounced in the recordings on Baidu Fanyi and on Bing Translator.

    https://fanyi.baidu.com/#zh/en/%E5%AD%A6%E4%B9%A0

    https://www.bing.com/translator (enter 学习)

    In contrast, in the latter case, that of xué Xí ("learn from Xi Jinping"), I would put a slight pause between the two syllables and somewhat emphasize the tone of the second syllable over the light way it is pronounced in xuéxí ("learn").

    These are rules and patterns that I acquired long ago from my teachers during the first three years of learning Mandarin and for succeeding decades from my wife and other Mandarin speakers around me.

    On the other hand, we have occasionally discussed somewhat similar cases on Language Log, and different folks have different opinions. Consequently, I've asked ten of my native speaker graduate students how they would pronounce xuéxí ("learn") vs. xué Xí ("learn from Xi Jinping") and will report what they say as they get back to me.

  6. Michael Watts said,

    May 25, 2019 @ 1:49 pm

    And I notice that the correct pronunciation is /æp/, but lots of people in China just pronounce "A" "P" "P"(/e/ /pi:/ /pi:/).

    The pronunciation /æp/ is not even possible in Mandarin; it's hard to see how it could be "correct".

  7. Gene Buckley said,

    May 25, 2019 @ 2:54 pm

    @Victor Mair

    Thanks for looking into the pronunciation — I had wondered if there might be an issue of phrasing or timing, given the different syntactic structure.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    May 25, 2019 @ 2:58 pm

    When contemporary Chinese speak Mandarin or other Sinitic topolects, it's all too common for them to mix in English pronunciations of salient terms.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    May 25, 2019 @ 3:19 pm

    From a fourth student on how to say "app" in Chinese:

    Normally, Chinese people say it as A-P-P, a trisyllabic term. People who know English well may just call it app. I think the Chinese term of app is "shǒujī yìngyòng ruǎnjiàn 手機應用軟件" ("mobile application software") or "yìngyòng chéngxù 應用程序" ("application program"). Basically, we will just write app or ruǎnjiàn 軟件 ("software").

  10. Victor Mair said,

    May 25, 2019 @ 3:21 pm

    From a colleague:

    Totally sick, of course. I wonder that they think this can have any positive effect. They really take people for fools.

    p.s. I've read there are all kinds of ways to trick the thing.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    May 25, 2019 @ 3:25 pm

    Response I on how to pronounce "xuéxí" ("learn") and "xué Xí" ("learn from Xi Jinping"):

    In order to distinguish these two terms, I will definitely emphasize the tone of the second syllable in the latter case (xué Xí). I feel the term xué Xí is a little bit ironic!

  12. Victor Mair said,

    May 25, 2019 @ 3:44 pm

    Response II on how to pronounce "xuéxí" ("learn") and "xué Xí" ("learn from Xi Jinping"):

    I would pronounce them slightly differently, contrasting where the primary stress occurs in this word. As for "to learn," it is a common Chinese word. I thus slightly stress its first syllable: ˈxuéˌxí (sometimes I put equal stress on both syllables). As for "learning from Xí," I stress the second syllable instead to emphasize that Xí is a person's name/proper noun:ˌxuéˈXí.

    (Note 1: [ˈ] marks the primary stress and [ˌ] marks the secondary stress. Note 2: I do recall some friends slightly stressing the second syllable as ˌxuéˈxí — this is more common among Northerners than Southerners according to my own experience and observation. But even in this case, the stress that one puts on the second syllable of "learning from Xí" is very, very apparent. A listener could easily tell.)

    Also, since "learning from Xí" has the exact same written form as the common word "to learn," some people (at least, among my own generation of Millennials) use it in a slightly sarcastic sense, in which case the users would stress the second syllable of xué Xí quite exaggeratedly. A similar case is 胡說 ˌhúˈshuō (to talk nonsense) VS ˈHú ˌshuō (as Hú Jǐntāo says). Such as difference in stress patterns may be applicable to all Chinese double entendres that contain celebrities' names — especially those that insinuate hot current events — I consider. (Diana Shuheng Zhang)

  13. Victor Mair said,

    May 25, 2019 @ 6:09 pm

    From a fifth student on how to say "app" in Chinese:

    I think most Chinese people normally write "App" or "應用程序" to refer to an app in Chinese, and there are mainly four ways to say it in China: "應用程序 (yìng yòng chéng xù)", "應用 (yìng yòng)","app ([æp])", or "A-P-P (to spell it)". The last one has been the most common way to refer to it in China for years. However, saying it as "A-P-P" has been sometimes considered a little awkward, because it seems people who refer to it in this way have no idea that "app" is the abbreviation of the word "application", which is sometimes derided by others. I always say it as "A-P-P" with Chinese people, although I'm aware of its derivation, since I feel like that's the most understandable way to refer to it. I think it has somehow become an idiomatic expression in China.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    May 25, 2019 @ 6:13 pm

    Response III on how to pronounce "xuéxí" ("learn") and "xué Xí" ("learn from Xi Jinping"):

    I think that "xuéxí" ("learn") and "xué Xí" ("learn from Xi Jinping") have different pronunciations. I would put a slight pause between the two syllables, emphasize the tone of the second syllable, and also prolong the vowel of the second syllable to a certain extent. However, the difference may still be too slight to tell, and thus a certain context would be helpful for understanding.

  15. Doctor Science said,

    May 25, 2019 @ 11:19 pm

    I've been saying for a while that the truly limited, valuable resource in our present world is human attention. This system sounds like an effective & Orwellian way of brainwashing CCP members, but it's *incredibly* costly: it wastes the attention of most of the ruling class, imposes a massive cognitive load, and drains their emotional energy. It makes Party membership very costly and much less attractive.

    The real questions might be, how long do the brainwashing effects last? and how often does it have to be repeated? This is the kind of thing Google would do a terrifyingly good job at.

  16. Victor Mair said,

    May 26, 2019 @ 6:19 am

    @Doctor Science

    Your thoughtful, perceptive remarks are much appreciated and right on target.

    It reminds me of something else inescapable in Chinese society that "wastes the attention of most of the people, imposes a massive cognitive load, and drains their emotional energy" — the Chinese writing system.

    Throughout Chinese history, the elite rulership has always been fiendishly adept at keeping people numb / dumb, the better to totally control them.

  17. Doctor Science said,

    May 26, 2019 @ 8:51 am

    Throughout Chinese history, the elite rulership has always been fiendishly adept at keeping people numb / dumb, the better to totally control them.

    It doesn't look to me as though it's as well-planned as that. I did notice the similarities to the cognitive load the writing system imposes, which is something I've learned from you. But as with the writing system in imperial China, Xuéxí / Xué Xi is a burden on the elite themselves, not on the mass of the people.

    I see it as part of a pattern in Chinese history of technological lock-in (I've recently read Mark Elvin's Retreat of the Elephants). It reminds me of what Elvin shows about the Grand Canal: it seemed like an inexpensive and controllable way to solve the critical problem of shipping grain from south to north, but it required an enormous burden of yearly maintenance.

    When it becomes more obvious that Xuéxí / Xué Xi is degrading the effectiveness of the people who are supposed to be the elite, it *should* be relatively easy to roll back. The alternative would be to expand it to the whole population, to "level the playing field" by degrading *everyone's* effectiveness. This would be the maximally wasteful choice, but I wouldn't bet against the regime making it.

  18. Trogluddite said,

    May 26, 2019 @ 10:24 am

    @Doctor Science
    I agree with Victor, those are very perceptive remarks, and IMHO applicable anywhere that conformity is valued more highly than diversity. As an autistic person, the "severity" of my condition is often judged by how accurately I can mimic "typical" social behaviour. After a half-century of practice, I'm not too bad at this when I put my mind to it. However, many people make the incorrect assumption that this coping strategy indicates some kind of remission of innate autism, which is not the case. The costs to attention, cognition, energy levels, and emotions of this hidden "masking" or "passing" often lead to poor self-esteem, loss of the feeling of agency, social withdrawal, and ultimately, mental illness for many autistic people who rely on it as a coping strategy. I have no doubt that this could be extended to LGBT+ people in contexts where they feel they must remain closeted, immigrants attempting to integrate, political dissidents, and many others, even in an apparently less explicitly coercive society than China.

  19. Andreas Johansson said,

    May 26, 2019 @ 12:43 pm

    @Doctor Science:

    Historically speaking, regimes have more often been overthrown by elites than by the masses. Even genuine popular revolts tend to find their leaders among disaffected members of the elite. So if the purpose is to drain energy that could have been used for opposition, aiming it at elites seem sensible.

  20. Victor Mair said,

    May 26, 2019 @ 12:43 pm

    From a sixth student on how to say "app" in Chinese:

    It's interesting that people call "app" differently in China. The Chinese term for "App" is "小程序"(small application), some people use this term. But many people just call it "A-P-P" (saying each letter). When I first heard people saying it, I thought it was weird. Those who speak a bit of English and those who are more tech savvy just call it "app". I used to only say "app", but now I sometimes even call it "A-P-P" because I hear it so often and pick it up quickly.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    May 26, 2019 @ 12:45 pm

    Response IV on how to pronounce "xuéxí" ("learn") and "xué Xí" ("learn from Xi Jinping"):

    I would pronounce them exactly the same —xuéxí.

    But almost everybody around me who knows this app understands the pun here. It is meant to pai ma pi (flatter Xi).

  22. Victor Mair said,

    May 26, 2019 @ 12:46 pm

    Response V on how to pronounce "xuéxí" ("learn") and "xué Xí" ("learn from Xi Jinping"):

    Yes, we do pronounce them in the same way. I guess the difference of meaning mainly depends on the context. If it means learning the thoughts of Xi, then there must be some discussion about him in the first place. If we normally speak of xuexi, very seldom do we refer to Xi Jinping.

  23. Victor Mair said,

    May 26, 2019 @ 12:47 pm

    Response VI on how to pronounce "xuéxí" ("learn") and "xué Xí" ("learn from Xi Jinping"):

    I would pronounce the two words exactly the same. However I have never said the latter word in my daily life. Therefore I am not sure how people who have to say xué Xí in their work daily would pronounce it. If I hear this word in the news someday, I will let you know how the reporters and commentators pronounce it.

  24. Victor Mair said,

    May 26, 2019 @ 12:48 pm

    Response VII on how to pronounce "xuéxí" ("learn") and "xué Xí" ("learn from Xi Jinping"):

    I would pronounce xue Xi (learn from Xi) with a longer "xue", as if I am emphasizing the action of studying and introducing what I am learning from (Xi). But since it's a short two character phrase, I guess often times people wouldn't notice the difference between their pronunciations.

  25. Victor Mair said,

    May 26, 2019 @ 12:48 pm

    Response VIII on how to pronounce "xuéxí" ("learn") and "xué Xí" ("learn from Xi Jinping"):

    If people say xué Xi, I think there will be a slight pause between the verb and its object. It would be no different than when people say xué zuofan (learn cooking).

  26. Victor Mair said,

    May 26, 2019 @ 12:49 pm

    Roundup on how to pronounce "xuéxí" ("learn") vs. "xué Xí" ("learn from Xi Jinping"):

    I'm grateful to all the students who participated in this survey. Judging from past experience with similar situations, the results are almost exactly what I expected. The students who are more focused on the Sinographs and writing think of both "xuéxí" ("learn") and "xué Xí" ("learn from Xi Jinping") as 学习. The students who pay more attention to speech and meaning and are more linguistically oriented speak and hear "xuéxí" ("learn") and "xué Xí" ("learn from Xi Jinping") quite differently.

  27. Victor Mair said,

    May 27, 2019 @ 6:29 am

    Response IX on how to pronounce "xuéxí" ("learn") and "xué Xí" ("learn from Xi Jinping"):

    I pronounce them differently. For xué Xí ("learn from Xi Jinping"), I would put a pause between xué and Xí and emphasize the tone of Xí because it has a different meaning here.

    Xí is like a code name to most Chinese people, when we do not want to say his full name we will use Xí and emphasize its tone.

  28. Victor Mair said,

    May 27, 2019 @ 6:30 am

    @Response IX

    Succinctly brilliant!

  29. JohnSwindle said,

    May 27, 2019 @ 8:16 pm

    The common Chinese word 学习 xue2xi2 'to study' had already started to imply political study by the time of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) if not before. Now Cultural Revolution jargon and references will take on new meaning. In a few years it will be hard to remember whether the app itself was there for the Cultural Revolution.

    走到妹家窗前看,妹在学习不敢喊。Zǒu dào mèi jiā chuāng qián kàn, mèi zài xué Xí bù gǎn hǎn. 'Go to Little Sister's house and peek in the window; Sister's studying Xi Jinping Thought, don't dare call out.'

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