Today in Fact, 5 March

Today may be regarded as Communist Leaders Day if we were that way inclined.
I was initially drawn to mark the birth today of the Polish-German Communist leader, Rosa Luxemburg in 1871 and to contrast her birthday with the pathetic death of Joseph Stalin over 8 decades later this day in 1953. I could not however resist telling you that today is Learn from Lei Feng Day in Communist China. While it seems he really did exist, the details of his life are almost certainly a propaganda confection. Lei Feng was, it seems, a soldier of the People’s Liberation Army in Communist China. After his death, Lei was characterised as a selfless and modest person who was devoted to the Communist Party, Chairman Mao Zedong, and the people of China. In 1963, he became the subject of a nationwide, posthumous propaganda campaign “Follow the examples of Comrade Lei Feng”. Lei was portrayed as a model citizen, and the masses were encouraged to emulate his selflessness, modesty, and devotion to Mao. After Mao’s death, Lei Feng continued to be used as a cultural icon representing earnestness and service; his name entered daily speech and his imagery appeared on t-shirts and memorabilia.
For more than 50 years, this is the kind of thing that has been written about him in Chinese newspapers: “When Lei Feng died in the line of duty, he was only 22, but his short life gives concentrated expression to the noble ideals of a new people, nurtured with the communist spirit, and also to the noble moral integrity and values of the Chinese people in the new period. These are firm faith in communist ideals, political warm-heartedness for the party and the socialist cause, the revolutionary will to work arduously for self-improvement, the moral quality and self-cultivation of showing fraternal unity and taking pleasure in assisting others, the heroic spirit of being ready to take up cudgels for a just cause without caring for one’s safety, the attitude of seeking advancement and studying hard, and the genuine spirit of matching words with deeds and enthusiastically carrying out one’s duties.”(People’s Daily 1993)
Reportedly born in Wangcheng, Hunan (near the town of Leifeng, Changsha, Hunan, named in his honour), Lei was orphaned at an early age. He is said to have become a member of the Communist Youth Corps when he was young and joined a transportation unit of the People’s Liberation Army at the age of twenty. According to his official biography, Lei died in 1962 at the age of 21, when a telephone pole, struck by an army truck, hit him while he was directing the truck in backing up.
Chinese leaders have praised Lei Feng as the personification of altruism. Leaders who have written about Lei Feng include Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai, and Jiang Zemin. His cultural importance is still reproduced and reinforced by the media and other propaganda outlets in China, including emphasizing the importance of moral character. Lei Feng’s prominence in school textbooks has declined in recent years, although he remains part of the national curriculum. The term “living Lei Feng” a turn of phrase describing anyone who is seen as selfless, or anyone who goes out of their way to help others.
The Communist Party’s construction of Lei Feng as a celebrity soldier is unique to China and differs from the more typical creation of military heroes by other governments during times of war because it glorifies morality among soldiers in times of peace. In China, Lei Feng has been part of a continuing campaign promoting soldiers as exemplary models, and evidence of the People’s Liberation Army’s role as an institution supporting the Communist government. The impossible details of Lei Feng’s life according to official propaganda, have been a subject of derision and cynicism among segments of the Chinese populace. As John Fraser recalled, “Any Chinese I ever spoke to outside of official occasions always snorted about Lei Feng.” In a 2012 interview with the New York Review of Books, Chinese dissident blogger Ran Yunfei remarked on the moral and educational implications of the Lei Feng campaigns, noting the counterproductive nature of teaching virtues with a fabricated character.
So Rosa Luxemburg was shot and her body thrown into a canal, Stalin was poisoned by his buddies and the dubious Lei Feng is said to have died when a telephone pole hit him.
– Doug Racionzer (see also