A new national hero has been created as part of the Chinese Communist Party's efforts to transform the most devastating natural disasters of the decade into a patriotic campaign to unite the nation. The late Gao Jiancheng, a 32-year-old PLA lieutenant, was hailed by the Central Military Commission as a 'flood combat hero' - the first and only such title conferred by President Jiang Zemin for PLA officers. Supervised by the party central, the People's Daily accorded front page coverage to Gao's gallantry. As political instructor of an anti-aircraft company, he had insisted on being in command of a mission in protecting a dyke in Jiayu County, Hebei Province, even though he had been suffering from a fever for days. According to the Xinhua News Agency, the rescue team was poorly equipped and Gao had given his life jacket to a novice. He also insisted to be the last to retreat when they were forced to abandon their vehicles. During the two-hour crisis, he was heard shouting to the soldiers: 'We can definitely get over this, as long as the party cadres are around.' Gao, exhausted, was swept away by the currents after saving eight civilians and his colleagues. Gao's widow appeared in a fund-raising gala televised by the China Central Television (CCTV) on Sunday. She told the audience she was grateful to the party and the government for having taken care of her family. Mrs Gao also contributed her savings to the relief fund. The initiative raised more than 200 million yuan for the Yangtze flood victims. Meanwhile, the station has churned out scores of reports on how people, especially those who have little to give, have pitched in to the cause. Among the donors featured were a primary student, who also wrote a letter in praise of the PLA, a family led by its 86-year-old great grandmother, a compatriot flown in from New York to attend the CCTV fund-raiser, as well as inmates from the Number 1 Detention Centre of Wuhan and Jinsing Drug Rehabilitation Centre. The flood stories have been dominated by the theme of 'blood is thicker than water'. The mainland media has been dexterous in shifting national attention from the real plight of the victims to those who have offered to help. The altruistic acts on the part of party members like Gao have made it even more touching. The Gao episode is indeed reminiscent of the communist propaganda machine's scheme in glorifying Lei Feng in early 1963 when the Chinese economy was bleeding from the unrealistic Great Leap Forward programmes. A PLA driver, Lei died in less dramatic circumstances. A truck backed over him while he was trying to help a comrade in trouble. His diary, graced with Mao Zedong's calligraphy, was published posthumously to urge the people to learn from Lei's total commitment to the party. Although the diary was later found out to have been fabricated by party propagandists, the Chinese authorities have continued to play the Lei card. Gao has become the communist party's Lei of the 1990s. His bravery and devotion are of course exemplary, but his death has left many questions unanswered. Why, for example, was a sick lieutenant allowed to be in command? Why were soldiers without life jackets ordered to risk their lives in the floods? Who should be held responsible for the lack of provisions for the rescuers? The incident also poses doubts over Mr Jiang's instruction to the soldiers to 'safeguard the dykes unto death'. The directive is incompatible with the principle that puts the safety of the rescue workers first. Now Gao is a national hero, these questions are unlikely to be aired, even if they could help improve rescue operations and save more lives in future.