Posted by Joel Martinsen on Friday, March 5, 2010 at 2:13 PM
Pledging to follow the Fengster
Lei Feng Day, March 5, is a time for the mainstream media to stage gimmicky stunts that somehow illustrate the decline of the Lei Feng Spirit of selfless dedication in contemporary society.
The Chongqing Economic Times sent a reporter out to help people at the local train station, where he discovered that people today are suspicious of strangers who offer them unwanted assistance:
Yang Xiaoli piled up her luggage on a spot just outside the entrance and then lifted up her one-year-old son before sitting down on the pile like so many other fellow travelers waiting for the train. Yang's oldest child was just three or four and would not settle down. "Don't run around. Obey!" Yang looked a little haggard as she watched her two rambunctious children. But when the reporter stepped forward and offered to help look after them, Yang brusquely refused: "No, I can look after them myself."
When the reporter then disclosed his identity and intentions, Yang revealed her worries: "There are too many people at the station. A stranger may offer to help, but if his motives aren't good, if he's a trafficker or a swindler, how will I be able to chase him down while carrying two kids?" Yang said that she refuses all help from strangers out of fear of getting cheated.
Xue Yu, who hails from Yunyang, was going to Beijing in search of work with sixteen people from the same town. The lively group had twenty or thirty bags among them, so this reporter went over to help carry them. But the attempt was unanimously rejected. After an explanation, Xue cheerfully agreed.
Later, he said that was a little afraid of a stranger offering to help: "You're not wearing a volunteer uniform, so how do I know you're not a cheat?" Xue said that he would not readily accept help from strangers who weren't dressed in the uniform of Beijing Railway Station volunteers.
Of course, gimmicks aren't restricted to the press. The power of the brand appeals to movers and shakers in the business community, as illustrated by this Guangzhou Daily report on Lei Feng's new use as a totem:
Yesterday, the "Guangdong Hugs for Presidents" group formed by thirty-odd "corporate managers" went to Yuexiu Mountain to hold their first "show" of the new year. For the oath-taking event, "Follow Lei Feng and be a spiritual tycoon," the managers wore red caps and white t-shirts, and everyone carried a red placard.
Under the leadership of Mr. Lin, the organizer, the members stood before a large poster of Lei Feng and shouted a several-hundred-word oath until they were hoarse. The managers then came up one by one to deliver energetic personal statements. After presenting their family background, they shouted the slogan, to which the assembly yelled in unison, "Yes."
The exercise reached a climax following the oath-taking when the "managers" took a step back, turned around to face the Lei Feng image, and then fell to their knees to demonstrate their "utmost respect and fervor for the Lei Feng spirit." They then got to their feet and bowed three times before the image. Then they distributed red caps and t-shirts to passers-by, urging them to "follow Comrade Lei Feng" in order to turn the Lei Feng spirit into their own "spiritual wealth."
"Other people worship the God of Wealth at the New Year. We worship Lei Feng," said Mr. Lin. In contemporary China, with its widespread worship of money, Lei Feng may be the poorest of the poor, he said, but from a spiritual perspective, Lei Feng is incredibly wealthy. He knew happiness and contentment in his heart, and in a very real sense was a 'spiritual tycoon'."
Turning to more serious forms of altruism and selflessness, the Zhongshan Economic Daily points out that while individuals can choose to emulate Lei Feng's example, groups of people aren't generally permitted to band together to do good works:
Another year, another March 5 "Follow Lei Feng" day. But tens of thousands of Zhongshan's grass-roots volunteers who want to "follow Lei Feng" have faced the same problem over the years: their public service organizations are not recognized by the government, so their good work must be conducted without a legal identity.
This reporter found more than ten private public service websites and teams in Zhongshan whose volunteers number more than 30,000. As they quietly go about their volunteer work, their one hope is that they can be acknowledged with formal recognition by society.
The Zhongshan Youth Associations (Self-Organization) Coalition was established on the evening of January 28. Comprising more than ten private public service organizations organizations like Zhongshan Qingfeng Outdoor Travelers Public Service, all of which operate outside of the system, the ZSYAC represents a step toward legality at last. This reporter learned that our city is contemplating lowering the threshold for private service groups, and if that policy takes effect, the public service websites mentioned above may soon achieve formal recognition.
The Qingfeng organization was started by a group of outdoor sports enthusiasts who began getting involved in charity projects such as assisting schools in poor areas. For the better part of a decade it has attempted to register as an authorized non-profit organization with official government sponsorship, but all of its applications were turned down. Members continue to conduct their charity activities outside the law.
Legally recognized charities in China are currently required to be attached to a sponsoring institution (主管单位) within the government. The policy change mentioned in the article seeks to replace that with a system of "steering institutions" (指导单位) that will eliminate many of the obstacles to registration.
What will change apart from the terminology is not made clear in the article. For the foreseeable future, it appears that Lei Feng followers must remain either loners or outlaws.
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