Walking around the Lei Feng Memorial Museum in the grim industrial city of Fushun, Liaoning province, one wonders what decade it is. The museum is devoted to a 22-year-old worker-soldier killed in a road accident in August 1962. He has become the longest and most-celebrated 'model' person in the 50 years of communist rule. Entering the museum, the first thing on view is a giant bust of Lei, with a boyish face and big smile. On the wall are personal inscriptions by the three most important leaders since 1949 - Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin. No other individual has received such an honour. The life depicted in the museum - like that of a Catholic saint, without sin and without sex - is so flawless it is hard to believe. Lei was born in December 1940 to a family of landless peasants in Hunan. By the age of seven, he had lost all six members of his family. Some died of hunger, his father was beaten to death by the Japanese and his mother was forced to commit suicide by a local landlord. He studied for six years at primary school, before working in the local government as an errand boy. In November 1958, Lei was transferred to a steel plant in Anshan, in the northeast, where he operated an earthmover. In January 1960, he was conscripted into the PLA, joining the Communist Party in November that year and becoming a squad leader in June 1961, stationed in Fushun. At 10am on August 15, 1962, a fellow soldier named Qiao Anshan was driving a truck which knocked down a pole. The pole hit Lei on the head. He died at noon the same day. The dark green truck is in the museum, as is the yellow earthmover, Stalin Number 80, that Lei operated at the steel plant. It was retired in 1995 after 37 years in operation. Lei's early years are shown in paintings, the last four in photographs. He always wears the same smile because he had already become a model worker during his 13 months at the steel plant. Also on display are spanners and tools, his toothbrush and towel, diaries and letters. The portrait of Lei is of a model human being and communist caring for others and wanting nothing for himself, honest and hard-working, obedient to the party and throwing himself into whatever task he was given. He seems never to have had a girlfriend or sexual relations. For the sceptical, the museum is creative fiction, not history, as accurate as the grain production figures during the Great Famine of 1958-62, in which false statistics helped cause the deaths of more than 30 million people. For others, it is a mixture of fact and fiction, of the life of a good man embroidered and improved by party propagandists to suit their purposes. To Wang Yong, former head of the city's Communist Youth League, such views are an insult. 'Lei is a spiritual hero who has influenced several generations of Chinese. No one can replace him. His values are eternal.' Mr Wang has helped arrange national seminars and study groups on Lei Feng. The museum attracts 150,000 people a year and sends exhibits to cities all over China. One Fushun man in his 60s said people responded to Lei according to their age. He said: 'He means more to people of my generation. He recalls a time when personal relations counted for much and money for little. There was little entertainment 20 years ago, just communist heroes. Now we have so much choice on television US films, sport, dramas and travel. 'But young people are cynical and more interested in money. For many of them, if Lei were alive today, they would regard him as a fool and simpleton, waiting to be duped by someone.'