Three Cheers for Xi Jinping! Wait, Make That a Billion

By Alyssa Abkowitz Features Dow Jones Newswires

Give it up for President Xi Jinping!

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It's so easy to do. Just vigorously tap on your smartphone screen to "clap" for him.

That's the latest way Chinese are showing support for their leader, affectionately nicknamed "Xi Dada" at home.

As the Communist Party's congress opened Wednesday, videogame company Tencent Holdings Ltd. released a free game in which users try to outdo one another with hearty virtual applause for Mr. Xi.

"Most Chinese are playing it in a jovial way to show their support," said Shaun Rein, managing director of CMR China, a market-research firm. "People liked what Xi said on Wednesday and are very supportive of the rejuvenation of the party and the rejuvenation of China."

The clap game is the latest way Chinese are applauding Mr. Xi, who has endeared himself to many at home by cultivating a common touch despite political crackdowns and economic troubles under his watch. His star power has inspired Chinese tourists to retrace his steps to places he has been overseas, including a British pub and an Iowa farm. His visit to a Beijing steamed-bun shop inspired a music video titled "Steamed Bun Shop."

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In the game, users watch snippets of Mr. Xi's three-and-half hour speech, delivered at the opening of China's 19th Party Congress. "It is a solemn promise," Mr. Xi intones in one clip, "that the poor people and poor areas will be part of the moderately prosperous society together with the rest of the country."

When the snippets end, players have 19 seconds to clap as often as possible by rapidly tapping their smartphone screens. Players earn scores based on how many times they clapped and are invited to share them with friends via the WeChat messaging app.

Tapping with only one finger won't rack up much appreciation for Mr. Xi, discovered Eric Yu, a 25-year-old Ph.D. student at Northwestern University from Hubei, China. "Then I figured out more fingers may help, " he said. On his third try, he used all five fingers on one hand, as someone might play successive keys in a piano arpeggio.

Mr. Yu's result: 1,489 claps in 19 seconds, putting him in the 99th percentile among the game's players. "The game itself," he said, "is quite silly."

Others found the game inspiring. one devoted fan waxed philosophical online, saying that "the clapping game reminds me of the idiom," then citing a Chinese saying that translates thusly: "If the upper ranks have a hobby or trait, the lower ranking followers will display a more extreme version of that trait."

Offering virtual applause for the party boss is a Communist China variation of the social-media habit of "liking" people's statements as a form of self-expression or sycophancy. The game is not the first instance where clapping is the preferred form of praise. In August, Medium, a publishing site for writers, announced a "Claps" system that lets readers give variable levels of applause to articles to show their appreciation.

Other Chinese companies looking to show enthusiasm for the 19th Party Congress include Didi Chuxing, whose ride-sharing app shows nearby cars with miniature red Chinese flags. A Beijing Foreign Studies University coffee shop offers latte art of the Chinese hammer and sickle.

The clapping game is the latest patriotic move by Tencent. It comes at a time when China's tech firms have been under mounting pressure from the government. A day before the congress began, Tencent issued a notice that users of its WeChat and QQ social messaging apps wouldn't be able to update their profile pictures or information until the end of the month.

While the company cited "system maintenance" as the reason, users of the services noted the timing coincided with the opening of the 19th Party Congress, which wraps up Oct. 24.

The Shenzhen-based company, which didn't return calls seeking comment, has recently come under fire from the government for hosting fake news, pornography and other banned content. The Cyberspace Administration of China said Tencent's hugely popular WeChat app "failed to fulfill its management duty" in ensuring users of its public accounts didn't post illegal content.

Using Mr. Xi in a game has potential risks. After memes comparing Mr. Xi to Winnie the Pooh spread online earlier this year, censors banned the bear from China's internet.

The game shows "strategic ambiguity" on Tencent's part, said Kaiser Kuo, a startup founder and former director of international communications for Chinese internet giant Baidu Inc. "They must have known it's so over-the-top silly."

So far, the incessant clapping doesn't appear to have raised any hackles. "If anything," said Mr. Rein, the research-firm director, "it's a good way to soften up Xi's image."

--Kersten Zhang, Esther Fung and

Xiao Xiao

contributed to this article.

Write to Alyssa Abkowitz at alyssa.abkowitz@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 19, 2017 17:03 ET (21:03 GMT)