Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, March 12, 2012

Cultural hero revived (again)… Yawn, yawn

Last week I noted how Party propagandists tried to stand Lei Feng up again as a cultural role model, but the response has been less than lively.

Chinese Heroism Effort Is Met With Cynicism
Some national heroes are born in the crucible of war. Others have far less dramatic origins.

So it was in the summer of 1962, when a soldier at this army base in northeast China reversed his truck into a telephone pole, sending it crashing onto the head of a 22-year-old comrade. The young man died, but his short life provided Communist Party propagandists with a perfect icon: Lei Feng, industrious, generous and irresistibly impish, China’s most endearing soldier, the sort of fellow who would darn his comrades’ socks and skip a meal so others might eat…

But the party’s efforts to resuscitate the spirit of Lei Feng on the 50th anniversary of his death have exposed the limits of old school propaganda in the age of the Internet. The campaign, which culminated Monday with the annual “Learn From Lei Feng Day,” has provoked a fresh round of public cynicism about a ruling party that is struggling to cultivate a sense of legitimacy.

The familiar lessons about Lei Feng’s feats and thoughtfulness that have inundated newspapers and television have been met by snickers, expressed through essays, cartoons and blog postings that highlight the government’s failure to practice the idealized morality it seeks to propagate.

One posting on Sina Weibo, the country’s popular microblog service, seemed to sum up the sentiment that it is party officials, not ordinary citizens, who should be studying Lei Feng’s selflessness. “Your children have migrated overseas but you ask me to learn from Lei Feng in China,” said the posting by the sharp-tongued blogger who goes by the name Notebook and has two million followers. “I have cancer because of the poisonous milk I drank but you ask me to learn from Lei Feng.” The post was deleted by censors on Friday…

Western scholars have long questioned the Lei Feng biography, and now the Internet has given rise to deniers who have been merrily poking holes in his story. They have questioned how a poor orphan living on a tiny army stipend could donate so much money to the needy…

[I]n Fushun, where Mao’s favorite soldier is buried beneath a hulking granite plinth… [is] the Lei Feng Memorial, a propagandistic tour de force packed with the minutiae — real or otherwise — of its subject’s abbreviated life.

Highlights include a console that plays his tinny, animated voice and… excerpts from the 330 diary entries, 12 articles, 18 speeches, 30 poems, 3 novels and 9 works of prose attributed to him, all dating to his two-plus years in the army…

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