Extend spirit of Lei Feng to religion

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2012, 12:00am


Mainland authorities are concerned about the development of a moral vacuum in society. Their latest attempt to fill it is the relaunch of an iconic role model first held up to the people by Mao Zedong. People's Liberation Army soldier Lei Feng became a symbol of selflessness and good deeds to others after his accidental death in 1962. Now, to mark the 50th anniversary of his death, the party's publicity department has launched the 'Practise Lei Feng Spirit' campaign. The propaganda hero is now portrayed as an ordinary young man who liked dancing, photography and poetry. It is not clear how this addresses the social stresses of economic reforms. Propaganda officials are right, however, to say a moral vacuum threatens society's core values. Rapid growth has provided fertile ground for greed and corruption. President Hu Jintao said recently that the purity of the party and consolidation of communist rule were at stake in rooting out corrupt officials.

For officials worried that distrust of authority could undermine social stability, Lei Feng is at least a safe ideological choice that poses no threat to stability in the sensitive lead-up to a generational change in national leadership. A relaxation of controls over the activities of civil society would in the long run liberate a more effective example of social morality. Instead, officials have just tightened controls over the charitable activities of religious groups, which will make it more difficult for them to secure foreign aid. They made continued entitlement of these groups to tax concessions subject to a ban on spreading their beliefs, foreign influence and 'undermining national interests' through charitable activities. That said, the authorities are to be commended for some encouragement of charitable work by religious groups. But there is room to reconcile concerns about foreign cultural influence with the value of mainstream religion's charitable work in providing society with a moral compass.