Communist hero reborn as human face of party
The Communist Party has kicked off a high-profile campaign to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of an icon, in what is being seen as an effort to fill a moral vacuum in society.
The party's powerful Publicity Department launched the 'Practice Lei Feng Spirit' campaign at a press conference in Beijing yesterday.
Lei Feng, a People's Liberation Army soldier, became a symbol of selflessness after his accidental death in 1962 and gained nationwide fame. Mao Zedong coined the phrase 'Learn from Lei Feng' a year after Lei's death and Monday is 'Learn from Lei Feng Day' on the mainland. 'By learning from Lei Feng we can set up a new moral standard and fix the distrust and other moral issues in today's society,' Xinhua quoted the publicity department's Luo Shugang as saying.
Communist officials are concerned that distrust of the government could undermine stability.
The altruistic Lei has been held up as a role model since his death at the age of 22. In his diaries, studied by generations of mainlanders, he wrote that he wanted to be 'a revolutionary screw that never rusts'.
Mainland media have published articles and books about the young hero's life as part of the anniversary celebrations, many of which seek to make Lei appear more human.
Stories in the mainstream media have not only focused on the good turns he did but have tried to show a real Lei: an ordinary young man who loved dancing, taking photographs and writing poems. Letters and uncensored photos have also been published. One picture shows Lei standing in front of Tiananmen Square with a bag - which was carefully removed by an editor decades ago during the Cultural Revolution because it represented a 'bourgeois lifestyle' and might have damaged Lei's image.
'We want to make Lei Feng more like a real person than a hero,' said Luo Zhengyu, publisher of The Collected Works of Lei Feng. The book includes letters from Lei to his girlfriend in the 1950s, a taboo in early party propaganda.
More than 100,000 copies of the book have been sold since its release last month, with Luo attributing its success to the fact that it 'revealed the tenderness of Lei Feng'.
Beijing philosopher Xu Youyu said Lei Feng could have been a good person, but the party had over propagandised him.
'Once the propaganda during the Cultural Revolution became a joke, people didn't trust the story of Lei Feng any more,' Xu said. 'The propaganda machine needs to find a new way to persuade people.'
Communist officials agree.
'The values of our society have become more diversified, and it's very hard to persuade people to have one moral idol,' Lu Ya, deputy director of the Communist Youth League's department of youth workers, said in a discussion on Lei Feng Spirit. He said many young mainlanders knew very little about Lei or had never heard of him.
Guo Yiqiang, deputy director of the publicity department's publication department, said: 'When we were young, we were made to study from Lei Feng passively, and we didn't question why we should learn from him. Now we should simply tell the public that Lei is a good man, and every society would welcome a good man like him.'