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A Lei Feng two-fer

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Lei Feng reading Mao's works with a flashlight

Even as Lei Feng Day recedes into the past, the Lei Feng Spirit lives on still. Here, in a true spirit of serving the people, we answer two burning questions about the good soldier.

1. Why are there so many freakin' photographs and stories about Lei Feng?

To address this question, we look at an excerpt of the new Lei Feng biography (Lei Feng 1940-1962). The passage below is taken from the chapter "Lei Feng's 19 poses."

In February, 1961, the Chinese army reached a high point of "Learn from Lei Feng." The Shenyang military district decided to conduct a traveling exhibition put on by the political department and the 10th regiment where Lei Feng was stationed. The group in charge of planning the exhibition prepared to use photographs to reflect events after Lei Feng entered the army, and to do this, they would have to reshoot a number of pictures.

The Shenyang military district engineering commander issued an order concerning the reshoot of Lei Feng pictures: Photography must be real, and it must reflect Lei Feng truly doing good acts.

Zhang Jun was given the order to put together a draft of the contents for the Lei Feng photo reshoots. The outline for the reshoot used as its resources the September 1960 designation of Lei Feng as an "Economizing Model Soldier," the records of his deeds After Liberation I Had a Home; My Mother was the Party and Bitter Recollections and Sweet Thoughts, and his own diary and personal statements.

After this photo shoot outline was authorized by the leadership, Ji Zeng was made responsible for shooting the photos during the half-month around the Spring Festival. At that time, nearly 20 photos were taken; the photos are familiar to the public who saw them at the exhibition. According to Zhang Jun's outline at the time, the photos are as follows (in parenthesis are Zhang Jun's shooting notes):

  1. Lei Feng, wearing a hat with a Mao pin, stands in front of a bust of Chairman Mao holding a machine gun (this should be used as the first photo at the entrance to the exhibit room).
  2. Helping the elderly and the young (shot according to the "taking care of an old woman" scene in After Liberation I had a Home; My Mother was the Party, chapter 5).
  3. Giving his brother-in-arms Wang Yan a lunchbox (shot according to Lei Feng's diary entry for 21 October, 1960: "I found comrade Wang Yan sitting apart watching everyone eat lunch. He answered, 'This morning I ate two boxes, so I didn't bring any food.' So I took my own lunch box and gave it to him to eat. Even though I was a little hungry, letting him eat his fill was my greatest happiness...'").
  4. Bringing mooncakes to the infirm at the east hospital in Fushun (shot according to Chairman Mao's Good Soldier: "This autumn festival, when Lei Feng picked up the mooncakes that had been distributed by the company, tears welled up in his heart. From 15 August, he thought back to his mother's death on 15 July, and he couldn't eat his mooncake. He wrapped it in paper, wrote a tearstained condolence letter, and sent it to the local Kuangshan hospital, offering his condolences to his class brothers who were ill or who had been injured while building socialist society.")
  5. Going to the bank to withdraw 200 yuan (shot according to After Liberation I had a Home; My Mother was the Party, chapter 7: "...I thought, a newly-established people's commune will certainly have many problems. I am a PLA soldier, so I must use real actions to provide help. Thinking of these things, I went to the bank and withdrew 200 yuan....").
  6. Reading Selections from Chairman Mao at night with a flashlight (shot according to Lei Feng's report "Bitter Memories and Sweet Thoughts": "Only by understanding revolutionary truth can one become a good soldier for Chairman Mao. I want to actively study Chairman Mao's works. Sometimes I won't put down my studying even in the bathroom. The army mandated lights-out at 9:00, so I bought a flashlight and study under my covers...").
  7. Shoveling manure to help the Liaoning People's Commune (shot according to Lei Feng's report "Bitter Memories and Sweet Thoughts": "I've studied all of the documents from the 8th Plenary Session of the CPC 8th Central Committee, and I thought to myself, what can I do for the People's Commune? If I collect manure for fertilizer, I can collect more than 500 pounds in a month and send it to the commune. If the commune wants to figure the money, I'll say that I don't have any gift to give to the commune; this manure is my gift").
  8. Helping Qiao Anshan study culture (shot according to After Liberation I had a Home; My Mother was the Party, chapter 4 ("Give all my knowledge to everyone"): "Our comrade Qiao Anshan is less educated than other people. He doesn't have enough confidence in his studies. His head hurts whenever he studies math. He doesn't bring a notebook to class, and sometimes skips classes. One day, I had him do homework, but he said his pencil had gotten lost. I gave him mine, and helped him staple together an homework notebook. This got to him - his enthusiasm for his studies gradually improved, and his test scores weren't that bad. I finished my teaching duties on time...").
  9. Organizing his brothers-in-arms to study Mao Zedong's works on the car lot (shot according to Lei Feng's 1960 entry entitled "Feelings one year after entering the army": "I should seize extra time to further my studies. I should never be without a book about me, and when I have time, I should take it out and read for a while, steadfastly studying, thinking, correcting, and applying...).
  10. Practicing the essentials of grenade-throwing by himself and learning from the platoon leader (also shot according to Lei Feng's 1960 entry "Feelings one year after entering the army": "When I entered the army, I didn't know how to throw a grenade. Holding even a fake grenade would set my heart jumping. Every time, I couldn't throw much more than ten meters. The officers and my brothers-in-arms taught me the "essentials," and the platoon leader took my hand to teach me, letting me obtain an excellent performance in grenade throwing...").
  11. Lei Feng practicing on the parallel bars (shot according to Lei Feng's report "Bitter Memories and Sweet Thoughts").
  12. Lei Feng darning socks (shot according to Lei Feng's After Liberation I had a Home; My Mother was the Party, chapter 7: "My comrades say that my socks look terrible, but after darning them I still wear them").
  13. Reading the newspaper aloud during a rest on a march (shot according to Lei Feng's After Liberation I had a Home; My Mother was the Party: "...I volunteered to be a part-time instructor. I taught Chinese language arts and arithmetic, and most comrades reacted well. But some comrades didn't pay attention...").
  14. Writing responses to letters from local people (after Lei Feng's stories were printed in newspapers, the local people wrote lots of letters to comrade Lei Feng. Shot according to the needs of the exhibition layout).
  15. Maintaining and repairing cars (shot according to Lei Feng's stories about his hard practicing to learn to drive, his attention to car maintenance, and his timely repairs).
  16. Group photo with the students of Fushun's Jianshe Street primary school (shot according to Lei Feng's frequent practice of using his time off from tutoring to participate in extra-curricular activities at this school).
  17. Lei Feng sends 10 yuan to the home of his brother-in-arms Qiao Anshan (shot according to Lei Feng's stories and according to the needs of the exhibition).
  18. Lei Feng withdraws 200 yuan from the bank, and delivers it to Fushun's Wanghua District People's Commune in person (shot according to Lei Feng's After Liberation I had a Home; My Mother was the Party: "I went to the bank to withdraw 200 yuan. I went to a commune in Wanghua District and explained why I had come. The commune officials said that they would take my sentiments, but that they would not take my money. After a long discussion, the commune took 100 yuan. Shortly after, there was an article in the newspaper that said there had been a huge, once-in-a-century flood in Liaoyang. I took the 100 yuan that the commune hadn't taken and sent it to the committee at Liaoyang, asking them to deliver it to the people in the flooded area...").
  19. Lei Feng speaking for newly enlisted soldiers (shot according to Lei Feng's After Liberation I had a Home; My Mother was the Party, chapter 2, "The day I enlisted" and his stories).

Through the above outline, we find that Lei Feng's own writings or records of his speeches were instrumental in shooting Lei Feng's "documentary photographs." During the 1950s and 60s, propaganda photos and writings were administered together, and had stringent ideological and discipline-related requirements.

Photographing Lei Feng was a technical element in the greater propaganda effort. Lei Feng's own writings unwittingly became the "script" in the photographers' plan.

2. What has the Fengster been up to lately?

Why, blogging, of course. His latest entry on the Diary of Lei Feng blog on Sina goes like this:

In March of each year, lots of people start to study me.
This kind of thing has gone on for years and years.
Sometimes, when I'm helping other people, I'll unconsciously think to myself, "I'm learning from Lei Feng," and feel a sincere joy.
Sometimes I'll forget that Lei Feng is really me.
Me, learning from an even higher me. Sometimes this problem baffles me.

Unfortunately, it looks like Lei Feng has been busy the past month - his last update was on 21 February. Maybe he's been off testing his video game.

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What about setting up a Lei Feng memorial driving school?

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