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SEPTEMBER 27, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 12


Courtesy Sun Chau Book & Antique Co., Ltd. (Hong Kong)

FUSHUN: The Creation of a Communist Ideal, 1962
Model Comrade
By SIMON LEYS

Lei Feng is one of modern China's most resilient icons. In 1962, the unheralded soldier was killed in northeast China's Fushun when a telephone pole fell on his head. Officials later uncovered his diary, allegedly filled with selfless devotion to the Communist Party. "Parents are dear to their children," read one entry, "but they can't compare with Chairman Mao." In subsequent political campaigns, the Lei Feng model has been dusted off and presented as an ideal for proper socialist behavior.

Lei Feng was a conscript who died at the age of 20 in a banal accident. Only after his death was it discovered what a humble and admirable pupil of Mao Zedong he had been during his short and hidden life. His ideal had been "to be a small cog in the machine," working for the party and Chairman Mao. The biography of Lei Feng had some strange variants before the definitive version was prepared by the writers of the Propaganda Department in 1964. "Lei Feng Exhibitions" were organized in the large cities, simultaneously, showing many "original" copies of the hero's diary. These exhibitions also showed remarkable photographic documents, such as "Lei Feng helping an old woman to cross the street," "Lei Feng secretly [sic] doing his comrades' washing," "Lei Feng giving his lunch to a comrade who forgot his lunch box," and so forth. Only cynical and impious spirits will wonder at the providential presence of a photographer during the various incidents in the life of that humble, hitherto unknown soldier.

    ALSO IN TIME
VISIONS OF CHINA
China's Amazing Half Century
Navigate through the People's Republic of China and discover the 50 places where history was made

China's Wild Ride
The early years of Mao's new republic were exhilarating and disastrous. Deng Xiaoping brought the country back from the brink

Essay: Happy Birthday to Me!
A Beijing writer recalls what he was doing when the People's Republic celebrated some earlier birthdays

  VISIONS OF CHINA
50 years of the People's Republic
presented by CNN, TIME, Asiaweek and Fortune

Asiaweek
Quest for Dignity
The success of the Communist revolution climaxed a century-long drive by the Chinese to reclaim their historical greatness

Simon Leys is the pseudonym of Pierre Ryckmans, a professor of Chinese studies at Sydney University until his retirement. This is reprinted from his 1977 book Chinese Shadows

ALSO SEE:
YALU RIVER: Taking on the Americans
DALIAN: City of the Future?
TECHNICAL INSTITUTE OF PHYSICAL CULTURE: Ma's Army
SHENYANG: Labor Gets Angry


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