Another year, another Lei Feng

Lei Feng remembrance day passed relatively quietly this year. A spate of editorials appeared last week agonizing over a recent survey that found a surprising number of school-children to be completely ignorant about the man and his day (see below), but the ongoing legislative sessions pushed unrelated political campaigns into the background.

Nevertheless, it seems that we can't observe Lei Feng day without re-imagining the icon and his significance to contemporary culture. Following last year's biography with its many previously-unpublished photos of the Fengster is yet another book that promises to introduce readers to a side of Lei Feng they may not have seen before.

Be Like Lei Feng proposes a Lei Feng spirit that transcends space and time. Author Wu Hongmei, a program director with the CCTV-4 cultural geography program Walk Through China (走遍中国), interviewed a number of people in Lei Feng's hometown of Fushun (and the book was in fact launched in that city). From the Beijing Daily Messenger:

In Be Like Lei Feng, the authors creates a Lei Feng unlike that of years past. [Wu] says that in addition to being the moral model with whom we are all familiar, Lei Feng can also be called a "success" and an "inspiration." In her book, Lei Feng is linked for the first time to trendy concepts like success and life planning, infusing "learn from Lei Feng" with new, timely content.

The authors of Be Like Lei Feng interviewed people familiar with Lei Feng, and on top of a firm grasp of historical material, invited a noted human resource expert, a professional manager, an ethicist, an artist, and a writer to retell the story of Lei Feng's life from the perspective of someone successful in contemporary society.

On 2 March, a number of newspapers reported the story that in a survey of secondary- and primary-school students in Kunming, 56.1% did not know of Lei Feng day, half had no idea who he was, offering answers like "Red Army soldier" or "tinker" when asked what he did. Children in Chongqing were even worse, with 60% failing to identify Lei Feng.

Bad stuff, right? A sign of the downward spiral of contemporary morality? Surprisingly, no. The majority of op-ed responses took the poll results in stride. Certainly there was some finger-pointing, but most of it was at parents and teachers for not educating children properly (Dahe News, for example).

But more people seemed to think that the Lei Feng Spirit is more important than Lei Feng himself. Another Dahe op-ed concludes:

Going one step further, in point of fact, the learning methods of the past - the class-divided Lei Feng, the deified Lei Feng, and the Lei Feng of political movements - should be abandoned. Learning from Lei Feng should keep pace with the times. We ought to find a way to promote the Lei Feng spirit with real meaning for today - only in this way can we avoid falling into formalism, only in this way can learning from Lei Feng find a true home.

And in a provocatively-titled essay in Modern Express, a Shanxi white-collar worker sees the commemoration itself as counter-productive:

If you truly want to do good works, please "forget Lei Feng"

by Chi Li / Modern Express

In fact, whether you are familiar with Lei Feng, whether you know of "Lei Feng Day," whether you can sing "Learn from the good model Lei Feng" - these are not the crucial issues. What is truly critical is for the Lei Feng spirit to be propagated from one generation to the next. There is truth to that statement - the so-called "Lei Feng Spirit" is really the traditional morality of the Chinese people: respect for the old and love for the young, taking pleasure in helping others, selflessness, and solidarity and harmony.

Expressed throughout the daily lives of everyone for thousands of years, these moral virtues can in no way be concentrated in any single individual, nor can the entire populace raise the quality of the Chinese people by studying a single person. If this were truly to be done, then it would require a flashy, glittering, music-filled holiday-style performance in the streets.

Most importantly, it is active, conscious actions by people. If this point is abandoned, then the "Lei Feng Spirit" becomes a mere form, a form that is taken advantage of by others.

Today, the elderly, children, youth, and women all have their own holidays. Some people believe that these holidays are the best solution; those days have a concentration of good people doing good works. I say, however, that this is the worst form possible. Perhaps when it first appeared, it may have had some positive use, but today it has turned into formalism and must be discarded.

First, it dilutes the commemorative meaning intrinsic to major holidays. The origin of every holiday has special meaning, they each have good traditions that need to be promoted, and they each have educational uses for later generations. But taking to the streets in the name of good people and good works dilutes, diffuses, and blurs the particular meaning of the holiday. All holidays become one - half a day off from work, half a day to do things for show. This type of commemorative event no longer has any commemorative meaning.

Second, it is a mockery of truly good people doing truly good works. Comrade Mao Zedong said that it is not difficult for one person to do one good thing; what is difficult is for someone to only do good and not bad his entire life. Many people carry out anonymously the traditional moral virtues of the Chinese people in every part of their daily lives. They are not noticed by anyone, or others may even mock them as fools, but this does not cause them to change their intentions. Then suddenly one day arrives where other people take noisily to the streets. Are these people fulfilling the heavy task of promoting the traditional moral virtues of the Chinese people?

You could say that Lei Feng's arrival in March and departure in April has quite a bit to do with the fact that we emphasize performance rather than learning. If you truly want to do good works, please forget "Lei Feng." Forget that individual and do good works sincerely. That is the true Lei Feng Spirit.

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There are currently 4 Comments for Another year, another Lei Feng.

Comments on Another year, another Lei Feng

i'm kind of curious if any comparisons between Lei Feng and Jesus have been made anywhere... One died saving state property, one died for everyones sins. Is Lei Feng like a communist jesus?

Joel, if it makes you feel any better, yesterday morning, in the park across from my office in Shanghai, they set up a stage and held a rally for the "Xujia district study Lei Feng traffic safety program".

I was touched. After all, he was killed when a comrade backed a truck into a telephone pole, as I recall. If that doesn't make him a martyr to traffic safety, what does?

Lei Feng as Jesus would make Chi Li the Paul Tillich of the "Learn from Lei Feng" movement, I'd imagine.

can anyone with any vaguely artistic talent make a series of Lei Feng as Jesus image? Please? :)

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