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March 8, 2012

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Lei Feng gets makeover to become 'hip'

Program Code: 0909346130605013

With pundits warning that China faces a crisis of ethics and morality, never before has the spirit of Lei Feng, an iconic young PLA soldier who served the people, been more sorely in need in a rapidly developing society where pursuit of wealth, personal success and status are often considered overriding goals.

Lei (his birth name was Lei Zhengxing) is being dusted off and given a face-lift and image makeover, in hopes of making him more appealing and acceptable to Chinese young people, many of whom know nothing about the hero who was a household name to their parents and grandparents.

Just in the nick of time, the 200,000-word "Complete Works of Lei Feng" was published last week by Huawen Publishing House. It includes what are said to be Lei's 162 diaries, 60 sets of reading notes, poems, novels, letters, speech scripts and words of advice for friends. All were said to have been collected from his old schoolmates, fellow soldiers and friends during the past 20 years.

Today is Learn from Lei Feng Day and this year marks the 50th anniversary of the death in 1962 of the young PLA soldier who was born a peasant and worked in a steel mill before enlisting. He always put the people first and became a larger-than-life ordinary hero.

These days Lei is not exactly the role model admired by many young people, if they know much at all about him. Some of those who do find him one-dimensional and a virtuous goody-goody.

Always a helpful and amiable fellow, frequently reading the works of Chairman Mao Zedong, Lei became a role model after his death at age 22 in an ordinary on-duty accident in 1962. Since then his good deeds have been celebrated and his legend was embellished, almost to the point of beyond credibility. On March 5, 1963, Chairman Mao launched "Learn from Lei Feng Day" and every March 5 is devoted to good deeds in the spirit of Lei.

Back then people were less materialistic, building China was everyone's job and heroes like Lei were much admired.

Today, however, people, especially young people, want to find the more human, hipper, trendier and more friendly aspects of Lei. The "Complete Works" just released draws a more realistic picture of an easygoing fellow, one who liked to dress stylishly and go to dances, who wrote poems and even had three girlfriends in sweet, Platonic relationships. He even had a sense of humor.


For decades, Lei's good deeds - all ordinary everyday acts of service to people - were well known to almost every Chinese, from school children to the elderly. He sent all of his savings to famine victims; every weekend he helped carry travelers heavy bags at train and bus stations; he donated all his books to set up a small reading corner in army barracks; on a trip home he helped lay bricks at a construction site, working so hard without gloves that his hands bled and his fingernails peeled away.

Lei's image began to appear everywhere, especially the famous image of him wearing a winter PLA cap with ear flaps. He appears on cups, T-shirts, notebooks and his stories have been turned into children's books, novels and movies. Primary school textbooks contain a section about Lei Feng.

Lei Feng Day is a day for various community and school events. People clean up parks, act as traffic monitors, visit the elderly and play with orphans.


"His poems were full of passion, not the boring combination of ink and paper; they were the blossoms of wisdom and hard work, not tedious and garrulous," says Xing Huaqi, the books' compiler.

An excerpt from "Swallow from the South" created in 1958 goes:

"Swallow from the south, why are you soaring high above the sky? You must see the magnificent Baqu River extending like a shining silver ribbon to foster this rich loam and the reflection of the Wu Mountain plunging to the crystal Tuanshan Lake."

This was when the young man from Hunan Province was just starting to write poems and novels. That year the primary school graduate wrote two short novels, two prose works, nine poems and three unfinished novels.

His first novel was "Yin Yin," a girl's name.

Compiler Xing says the novel is short but impressive "like a new bud that is about to bloom ... Some critics think it is a little childish and lacks plotting, but at least, he took the first step into the world of literature. From his work, we can see that Lei was quite talented."

Lei continued to write, but stopped "literary" efforts. He kept a diary and wrote for the PLA Daily of the People's Liberation Army.


Lei was short, around 154cm in height and no more than 55kg. He had a round baby face, big round eyes and bushy eyebrows. He would not have been accepted in the army, had it not been for his extensive work experience in a steel mill.

In those years, when most men wore close-cropped hair, Lei loved his bangs. When wearing a cap, he always raised the brim a little so not to destroy his carefully trimmed bangs.

He loved dancing, a popular pastime introduced from the former Soviet Union, and mastered many steps at the dance club of the Anshan Iron and Steel works in Liaoning Province where he worked. He could waltz, do the rhumba or dance the swing. Many girls liked to dance with him.

Lei was trendy. Before the Chinese Lunar New Year in 1959, Lei took his first trip to the downtown area of Anshan City, where he bought a leather jacket, woolen trousers and black leather shoes. Those were the outfit of a bridegroom at that time. He also owned an Enicar watch, which was displayed in the Lei Feng Memorial Hall in the Shenyang Military Region in Liaoning Province.


He seldom wore what amounted to finery at the time, at first saying the clothes made him uncomfortable. He later admitted that a letter from his hometown made him feel guilty because people there were not well-off. In the letter, old friends reminded him to work hard and live simply.

Before the 1980s, cosmetics were almost nonexistent, though some women used Clam Cream (so named because of its shell-shaped jar). Lei owned a bottle of Friendship Cream, the top domestic brand at that time.

Whether Lei had a steady girlfriend is not known - after all, doing so many good deeds didn't leave much time for courtship. But he was quite popular and said to have had three girlfriends over time, according to his comrade in arms Chen Guangsheng who revealed in an earlier TV talk show.

The first was Feng Jian; they met when Lei was an office clerk in the Wangcheng County government in Changsha, Hunan Province. He frequently escorted her home. "There was a small river near my home and each time Lei would row a boat, taking me to the other side. Then he returned home," Feng once recalled.

In spring Lei used to take Feng a bunch of red wildflowers, keeping some for himself in a small glass bowl.

The best-known lady in Lei's life was Huang Li, who met Lei in 1957 when he was a truck driver. Since Wang was three years older than Lei, she always called him "dearest little brother." Before Lei left for Anshan in Liaoning Province, she wrote a farewell note signed "Your loving grass." They had their picture taken together and said good-bye.

They lost touch and Wang never knew he was a national hero until Chairman Mao encouraged young people to learn from Lei Feng.

The third lady was Yi Xiuzhen, who met Lei on the train to Anshan. Later when Lei was assigned to the remote Xinjiao Coking Plant, Yi went with him. The day before Lei left for the army, he said to Yi, "I know how you have felt for me." However, they lost touch after he left.


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