Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Cultural hero revived (again)

Back in ancient times when I began teaching about China, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was in full swing. Millions of people carried around "little red books" of quotations from Chairman Mao and pretended to study those words of wisdom in political study groups (xiaozu) led by Party cadres.

One of the quotations people studied was Mao's exhortation to "Learn from Lei Feng." Lei Feng was a social, cultural, and political role model.

He spent all his time selflessly doing whatever he could for the good of the Chinese people (according to his diary found after he died). Unlike national role models in the west (George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon, Lenin, Winston Churchill, for examples), Lei Feng was a lowly private in the PLA. He gave his tiny salary to the poor. He refused extra uniforms when he could patch the one he had. On his day off, he volunteered for work projects or tutored students. He was the perfect Chinese citizen for the time.

American students enjoyed reading the translation of the comic book biography and speculating about how political and cultural values are taught. I even had a clip from a biopic produced by Chinese propaganda officials that told how Lei Feng tragically died while helping comrades park trucks.

This all comes to mind because Xinhua reports that Lei Feng is being trotted out again as a national role model. It will be interesting to see how the spirit of Lei Feng is used in today's "socialism with Chinese characteristics."

People's Daily to publish Lei Feng editorial on Friday

Have deep love for Mao Zedong Thought just like comrade Lei Feng, 1977

China's leading newspaper People's Daily is to publish an editorial Friday, in memory of Lei Feng, an army soldier and model citizen, calling for deepening the Learning from Lei Feng Campaign.

"I want to contribute my limited life into the unlimited service for the people," the editorial, entitled "Write the Spiritual Epic of Our Times," incudes this popular quotation from Lei Feng's diary. It extols the soldier as a model for socialist and communist spirit and ethics.

The "Lei Feng Spirit" has been an important part of the spirit of the Chinese Nationality, the paper stresses. China, in the current critical period for the development, "further needs the dedicatory spirit of hard working," it adds.

The "Lei Feng Spirit" remains to be "of great value and of great significance to the times," the editorial says. It urges all members of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and leading officials at different levels to be advocates and practicers of the "Lei Feng Spirit."

Lei Feng (1940-1962) became the most popular ethic model in the country, ever since March 5, 1963, when late Chinese leader Mao Zedong learned his stories and wrote an inscription of "Learning from Comrade Lei Feng."

Lei Feng's stories, mostly about how he had helped others or done his job without any selfish motives, were discovered from his diary by his colleagues shortly after his death on August 15, 1962.

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