Sixty years on, hero soldier remains a role model in China

(Xinhua) 09:51, March 04, 2023

BEIJING, March 3 (Xinhua) -- It is more than six decades since the death of Lei Feng, a young soldier who embodied the spirit of self-sacrifice, and yet the "Lei Feng spirit" is still alive, inspiring a new generation of Chinese people.

Ye Zigui, deputy leader of the Lei Feng squad -- the current name of the military unit in which the heroic soldier served -- is in no doubt that this spirit should be passed on to the next generation. However, the 28-year-old combines his appreciation for traditional role models with enthusiasm for more modern variations, including movie stars who express similar values.

In particular, Ye is a huge fan of Chinese actor Wu Jing.

"He has starred in many movies as a man of iron from whom we should learn," said Ye.

Wu Jing, a Chinese Kung Fu star, has lately played the role of a hero who sacrificed himself to help others. His latest work was the sci-fi blockbuster "The Wandering Earth II," which was embraced by audiences, especially youngsters, with box office earnings of about four billion yuan (about 578 million U.S. dollars).

This Sunday marks the 60th "Lei Feng Day," an annual event aimed at celebrating the life and spirit of this young soldier who devoted his spare time and money to helping the needy. He died in an accident in 1962 at the age of 22. In 1963, Chairman Mao Zedong called on the nation to learn from him, with posters put on display featuring Lei in his uniform and a cotton hat, and he quickly became a public role model with enduring appeal.

A child visits the Lei Feng Memorial Hall with families in Fushun, northeast China's Liaoning Province, Feb. 10, 2023. (Xinhua/Yao Jianfeng)


Over the past decades, young people have developed an appreciation for role models from a variety of different backgrounds.

Last year, research led by the Beijing Academy of Educational Sciences showed that scientists, actors and doctors were ranked as the top three categories of idols by primary and middle school students. In 2019, a survey by Xinhuanet showed that 81.12 percent of the university students polled identified their role models as heroes, successful businessmen, scientists and ordinary people who did great things.

The "Wandering Earth" series and TV drama "Three-Body" earlier this year once again put the spotlight on renowned sci-fi writer Liu Cixin, who has built a large following among young Chinese people.

"People representing different social values are seen as role models at different periods," Ji Shaoting, head of Future Affairs Administration, a company that deals with the sci-fi business, including publication, consulting and film-making, told Xinhua.

"Young people today were born at a time of fast economic and social development, and have witnessed great progress in science and technology," she said.

However, she noted, the changes do not mean that the Lei Feng spirit is losing its luster. On the contrary, even in science fiction, which depicts extreme scenarios such as future disasters, the helpfulness and kindness of people are still essential.

For instance, the character that actor Wu Jing played in "The Wandering Earth" series finally sacrificed himself to save the earth. His altruism and selfless dedication are typical features of what Chinese people refer to as the "Lei Feng spirit."

Gan Yu, in a wheelchair after surgery, leaves West China Hospital of Sichuan University in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan Province, Oct. 8, 2022. (Xinhua/Xue Chen)


In fact, the desire to help others can always be found among ordinary people.

On September 5, 2022, when the earthquake struck Luding County in southwest China's Sichuan Province, 28-year-old hydropower station worker Gan Yu and his colleague chose not to evacuate but remain at their posts, saving villages downstream from being flooded. His colleague was rescued on September 8, while Gan was rescued by a local villager 17 days later.

"I'm not a hero," Gan repeated, in an interview with Xinhua.

The name Lei Feng is familiar to him, but Gan doesn't feel that he should be compared to the young soldier. "Lei Feng is a role model that all Chinese young people learn from," said Gan. "Education from childhood can have a longstanding effect on one's life. Times change, but we still need the 'Lei Feng spirit.' The things he did may seem trivial, but behind them was a nobility that we can all achieve."

Zeng Qiangfei, 24, is also from Sichuan. In 2013, when an earthquake jolted his hometown in Lushan County, he was studying in a middle school.

Zeng remembered seeing rescuers and volunteers gather there from across China to help. When he grew up, he became a volunteer in a local rescue team himself.

After a devastating quake rocked Türkiye and Syria this year, he flew to the affected regions to join the rescue operation. In six days, his team helped save nine survivors who had been trapped in the debris, during which period he always saw local residents bowing quietly to rescuers like them.

"I grew up listening to Lei Feng's stories. He is an extraordinary young man who spared no effort to help others without caring about his own losses," said Zeng. He saw in the operation that goodwill is universal, transcending languages and borders.

This view is shared by a 56-year-old British man named James Elroy Edginton, who lives in south China's Hunan Province, the hometown of Lei Feng. Working as an international faculty member at a local college, Edginton volunteers to help students from impoverished families as well as veterans, and is fondly referred to as the "foreign Lei Feng."

"I am honored to be associated with the spirit of Lei Feng, primarily because his qualities are timeless and borderless," he told Xinhua. "The qualities attributed to Lei Feng are moral strengths that transcend time and place, because good deeds exist across history and around the globe."

Ye Zigui, deputy leader of the Lei Feng Squad, wipes the protection cover of the squad's flag in northeast China's Liaoning Province, Feb. 11, 2023. (Xinhua/Yao Jianfeng)


According to Ye Zigui, deputy leader of the Lei Feng squad, the spirit of Lei Feng has already "gone abroad."

At a Chinese peacekeeping camp in Mali, a local officer, after visiting an exhibition to showcase the Lei Feng spirit, left a message saying that this same spirit was also needed for the Malian people to build their country.

Ye also remembered an officer from Bangladesh saying, after reading some entries of Lei Feng's famous diary, that it was quite "philosophical."

"After 60 years, the Lei Feng spirit still has influence and vitality," Ye said.

Mou Zhenhua is the 27th leader of the Lei Feng Squad. According to him, over the past decades the squad has not only participated in National Day military parades, international peacekeeping tasks and global military competitions, but also helped more than 400 students facing financial problems, and has taken part in firefighting, disaster relief and rescue missions.

To date, the squad has retained a habit of making the bed of their "former squad leader." "It is the moment I felt closest to him," said Mou.

In the Lei Feng Squad, the role model of Chinese people for generations can be seen everywhere; his statue, his photos and copies of his diary are displayed in the room.

On the wall are gleaming red characters that read, "The former squad leader is always with us."

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Hongyu)


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