Posted by Joel Martinsen on Monday, March 5, 2007 at 11:45 PM
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 Following last year's biography with its many previously-unpublished photos of the Fengster is yet another book that promises to introduce readers to a side of Lei Feng they may not have seen before.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:
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:
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.
Links and Sources
Jobs in China
Henry on The Eurasian Face
Caroline W on Big in China
Michael on Julia Lovell on translating Lu Xun's complete fiction: "His is an angry, searing vision of China"
Brandon K. on Clueless academic takes on popular fantasy novels
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The Eurasian Face : Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
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From the Vault
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+ Korean history doesn't fly on Chinese TV screens (2007.09): SARFT puts the kibbosh on Korean historical dramas.
+ Religion and government in an uneasy mix (2008.03): Phoenix Weekly (凤凰周刊) article from October, 2007, on government influence on religious practice in Tibet.
+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.