Lei Feng

Lei Feng
b. 1940; d. 1962
Political icon
Lei Feng is perhaps the most enduring icon of model behaviour of modern China. Lei became an orphan after the Japanese killed his father and his mother committed suicide. The CCP saved him and brought him up. He joined the Army and became a Party member. Diligent study of the works of Mao Zedong taught him to live a life of frugality, to eschew selfishness and to devote himself to the people. In his diary, he expressed his desire to be ‘a revolutionary screw that never rusts’.
This diary became the object of study in 1963 after Mao called on the nation to learn from him. Photographs of Lei in action turned up, movies and comic strips were made about his life, and posters bearing his image were produced in staggering quantities. He became a fixture in propaganda and education, a true icon of desired obedient behaviour. Lei’s model status was based on his many good but unspectacular deeds: he sent his savings to a fellow soldier’s parents, stricken by a flood; he washed his buddies’ feet after a march, and even darned their socks while they were asleep. Unlike most other models, Lei was not martyred, but killed in an ordinary accident.
After the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, Lei returned in propaganda posters. This time around, Lei was presented as a much more stern and forbidding figure than before. Despite his more aggressive posture, Lei’s model behaviour was seriously out of sync with the social realities of the early 1990s. In a society in which money, market and mobility were increasingly valued, people could gain little by following his example of self-sacrifice. Many Chinese have long considered Lei a joke, and have mocked the emulation campaigns.
In 2000, Lei’s image suddenly turned up in places reserved for advertising. He urged passers-by to surf a website devoted to health information. Lei’s billboard reappearance testifies to his lasting influence to make people’s behaviour conform to some norm. At the same time, it indicates to what extent propaganda, as a form of political advertising, and commercial marketing techniques have intersected.
Farquhar, Judith (2002). Appetites—Food and Sex in Post-Socialist China. Durham: Duke University Press.
http://www.leifeng.org [Lei Feng Memorial Hall]

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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