The ruling Chinese Communist Party is trialing a system in the eastern province of Shandong that claims to identify which of its members are showing symptoms of flagging loyalty, or whose ideological game needs work, using virtual reality (VR).
Using a VR environment developed by Beijing Baofeng Audiovisual, the newly opened Party Education Center in Shandong's Qingyang township has rolled out the new system, which hooks new and more experienced party members up to a system that quizzes them on President Xi's "Chinese dream" concept.
The center was set up at a cost of 700,000 yuan to employ cutting-edge technology to "educate, manage, and supervise party members," government-backed online news site The Paper reported.
It launched last month on a mission to test party members to ensure their loyalty and ideological awareness, and then to offer consultations and the eventual rehabilitation of those who fail such tests, the report said.
Participants are shown a party propaganda film lasting around 10 minutes, before being ushered to a test-taking area where they don VR headsets and begin the test, official media reported.
The test, which is billed metaphorically as a party "medical," includes 10 multiple choices questions along the lines of "What is the party's highest ideal and ultimate goal?"
Possible answers are: achieving communism, the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, or the Chinese dream. The correct answer? "Achieving communism."
But it is psychometrics that lie at the heart of the test, with participants asked to indicate the degree to which they agree with statements such as "Those who don't engage in corruption will be marginalized."
Another section tests party members on the "vanguard role" of the Communist Party in Chinese life.
"When problems are identified, experts from party schools at city and county level will conduct personal consultations with party members through remote video calls," the article said.
Repeated requests for comment were turned down by the Qingyang township government last week.
Beijing-based political commentator Zha Jianguo said the new system comes as President Xi Jinping, who was recently voted in for an indefinite term in office by China's rubber-stamp parliament, seeks to ensure total loyalty in party ranks.
"The party is demanding absolute loyalty from leaders at all levels," Zha said. "This is the way things are going in mainland China right now."
"Some of the things that are popular now are totally unreasonable and ridiculous, but nobody will stand up and criticize them," he said. "Everything's getting more and more extreme."
An Orwellian message
Beijing-based constitutional scholar Zhang Lifan said the government wants to send an Orwellian message to party members: that Big Brother is watching them.
"Testing the loyalty of party members, or at least their ability to absorb official propaganda, is part of a total system of thought control," Zhang told RFA. "They have added in various high-tech elements, too."
He said the whole system would have similar consequences to the televised eye-roll of a reporter at an obsequious line of questioning at the National People's Congress (NPC) in March. The reporter was immediately pulled from the assignment, and colleagues said she could lose her job.
The new loyalty test comes as the government builds a nationwide facial recognition and surveillance network, achieving near-total surveillance of urban residents, including in their homes via smart TVs and smartphones, by 2020.
The nationwide "Sharp Eyes" platform will be able to link up public surveillance cameras and those installed in smart devices in the home, to a nationwide network for viewing in real time by anyone who is given access.
Liao Tianqi, Germany-based president of the Independent Chinese PEN writers' association, said she initially thought the story was a spoof.
"After reading it carefully, I realized it was actually true," Liao said. "It made me feel pretty sad and disgusted."
She hit out at the medical metaphor being used by the test center.
"This test center seems to invoke the idea of medical tests, such as blood tests and tests of urine and faeces," she said. "But how can you test party spirit that way?"
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xi Wang for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.