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Four Out of Ten Chinese Still Regard Lei Feng as Spiritual Model
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More than forty percent of Chinese still regard Lei Feng, a Mao Zedong-era model soldier who served the people, as their spiritual model, according to a new survey.

On March 5, 44 years ago, former Chinese leader Mao Zedong called on the nation to learn from Lei Feng, a squad leader in an army engineering corps in northeast China. Lei was an orphan and became a soldier in 1960.

Lei Feng died Aug. 15, 1962, in an accident at the age of 22. His loyalty to the Communist Party of China, generosity and diligence have inspired generations of Chinese with the "spirit of Lei Feng".

However, many Chinese are ignorant of Lei Feng or dubious of his significance in contemporary society.

"In 1960s, every Chinese followed Lei Feng to help each other voluntarily on March 5, the commemoration day," a 70-year-old Beijing teacher surnamed Che said. "All your broken household appliances could be fixed on that day."

The following decades, people started to find that Lei's spirit was observed only on the commemoration day, prompting calls for the regular teaching of Lei Feng lessons.

The calls have weakened in recent years as learning from Lei Feng has become less common.

A nationwide survey of 3,776 people jointly conducted by China Youth Daily and sina.com one week before the commemoration day showed that 22.6 percent of people had "absolutely no idea of the day" and only 28.3 percent "had observed it".

"One of the reasons for this concerns what and how those warm-hearted volunteers help or serve other people in learning from Lei Feng," Che said.

"In 1960s, students were able to serve the people by repairing bikes, radios or other devices," he said, "but in 1980s and 1990s, even the volunteers from high schools could only help others by doing something anyone could do, such as housecleaning."

On the other hand, many Chinese felt there were many things that needed doing no matter how common they were.

A pregnant woman named Huang Xia who took Beijing subway everyday complained on Monday that most days nobody offered her a seat. "Where is Lei Feng? Where are those volunteers committed to following Lei's spirit?" Huang asked.

The survey also showed that 80 percent of people had no particular plans on March 5 and only 12.6 percent "planned to do something good for others voluntarily" on the day.

In the late 1990s, Lei Feng's colleagues and followers encountered a quandary. Free haircuts, shoe repairs and other common charitable acts met with opposition.

Many small business people like bike repairers and hairdressers who made a living from these tasks strongly opposed the free services that volunteers provided.

Many believe that learning from Lei Feng once a year on the commemoration day is meaningless and irrelevant. But 56.3 percent of respondents insisted that learning from Lei Feng was absolutely necessary.

Two decades ago when Lei Feng was mentioned, a typical image of a soldier clutching his rifle and eyes forward would come to mind. Young people are now more likely to regard Lei as a brotherly figure rather than a hero.

They pay more attention to the details of Lei's life. Historical materials and old pictures about Lei are widely available on the Internet. Unconfirmed stories have emerged such as Lei's love of motorcycles, leather jackets and famous brand watches, and he has even been given a romantic interest.

However, 41.8 percent of respondents rejected the unconfirmed stories, and 30 percent think the stories have lowered his standing to that of an ordinary human being.

Forty-two percent still regard Lei as an example and 77.8 percent have done volunteer work for others, according to the survey.

"Lei Feng as an ordinary man still has his vitality," Che said.

(Xinhua News Agency March 6, 2007)

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