A bus decorated with Lei Feng's portrait and quotes in Zhengzhou, Henan Province [Li Bo]
Five decades ago, a 22-year-old soldier of the Chinese People's Liberation Army named Lei Feng died in an accident while at work. After excerpts from his diary, which recorded some of his volunteer work and charitable acts, were published, the top Chinese leadership initiated a large-scale campaign urging people to emulate his exemplary deeds.
Although Lei did not accomplish anything extraordinary during his lifetime, he was always ready to do everyday work for people and society. He donated his monthly allowances to disaster-hit areas, took part in various volunteer activities, and helped anyone in need he came across. Owing to his good deeds, he was admired and eulogized by millions of fellow citizens. And as an icon and role model, he has inspired and influenced both his contemporaries and later generations.
However, circumstances have changed with the passage of time. Today, Lei is no longer a household name, and his exceptional qualities have been somewhat ignored or even branded by some as irrelevant and out of tune with the prevailing social values.
Worse still, along with the rise of materialism and consumerism in China, the rules of human conduct in the country seem to have been downgraded. The sheer pursuit of personal or commercial benefits, sometimes at the cost of others, has become commonplace. Cold-heartedness, egotism and a basic rejection of altruism are increasingly prevalent attitudes.
Although Lei's exemplary model was set over half a century ago, compassion and altruism remain highly relevant today. In this fast-changing era China needs a positive role model more than ever—Lei's deeds fully embody the core values needed in a modern society.
Continuing to learn from his lofty example will help build up ethical and moral virtues in China and help combat selfish or demoralizing practices and tendencies.
While at times courtesy and social responsibilities seem to be on the wane in the country, learning from Lei has never ceased across China. In recent years, instances that represent Lei's ideals are frequently reported and involve individuals from all walks of life, from millionaire entrepreneurs to garbage collectors.
For every story of avarice and indifference, there is one about a person who was determined to do the right thing. The selfless efforts of those who are determined to assist the poor and needy and save the lives of those in danger correspond to the needs of our times and these people have carried on Lei's legacy.
Following Lei's model will never go out date, and if all of us make a real effort to strive for what Lei upheld and practiced, it will not be difficult to build a truly harmonious society.