Model worker Lei Feng fading into the mist for youngsters

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 March, 2007, 12:00am

With just days to go until the mainland marks its annual Lei Feng Day, the memory of the model worker seems to be slipping from the public consciousness.

'Do you know who Lei Feng is?' To the surprise of a survey pollster in Kunming, most of the students surveyed said 'no'.

Kunming's Metro Times polled 100 students from primary and high schools in the provincial capital, Yunnan , two days ago. It found that more than 50 per cent did not know who Lei was, making wild guesses including that he was a Red Guard or a janitor.

Until at least the 1980s, Lei was widely studied by primary school children and was long regarded as the communist version of the 'Good Samaritan'.

Born to a poor farming family in Hunan in 1940, Lei became an orphan at seven when he lost his family in the civil war. He joined the youth league of the Communist Party when he was nine, and was long hailed as a role model of service, from his school years to his time in a steel factory, and later in the People's Liberation Army.

When Lei died at the age of 22 in a car accident, Mao Zedong and other leaders praised him as 'Mao's good fighter' and for living out the communist spirit. Mao even set March 5 as Learning from Lei Feng Day.

But the Kunming survey found that over half of the students did not realise March 5 was Lei Feng Day and that 70 per cent of the schools in Kunming had not organised any activities to commemorate day on Monday.

At a time when there are growing concerns about a spiritual void in China, some sociologists believe Lei Feng still has a role to play.

'We need a new icon, but we should still keep Lei Feng,' Peking University sociology professor Xia Jinlian said.

'Circumstances might have changed, but Lei Feng's giving spirit lives on as an example to children of an important Chinese traditional virtue.'

Beijing will host major performances of poems, music and plays inspired by the model worker's efforts.