A hero speaks volumes of its nation

Meet Léi Fēng – a modern role-model for the Chinese society.

lei feng photo

Considering someone who died back in 1962 as a modern hero for contemporary Chinese people may look a bit awkward at first, but it’s true nonetheless. So who was this Léi Fēng? It turns out he was a young soldier who died in road accident. And no, there was nothing heroic to it, at least nothing in western sense of this word.

Léi Fēng was orphaned at young age. His father was killed by Japanese Army during World War 2 and his mother committed suicide after being “dishonoured by a landlord”. Young Léi joined Communist Youth Corps and enlisted into People’s Liberation Army at the age of 20. While in service with military transportation unit he was killed at the age 22. The hero cult started almost immediately with Chairman Mao calligraphing a poem in Léi Fēng honor. Almost all subsequent Chinese leaders, including Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and President Xi Jinping have emphasized the importance of Léi Fēng whose life is shown as the expression of noble ideas and moral integrity to students of Chinese schools even today.

But what makes Léi Fēng so special to modern Chinese? The nation’s history is full of old heroes like Wu Song from one of Four Great Classical Novels who defeated bandits and socialist ones, like Chen Yonggui who created a People’s Commune in Shanxi mountains. In contrast, there’s nothing courageous nor even exceptional in Léi Fēng life and death. Instead, Léi heroism is based on his daily carrying out his duties. That makes Léi Fēng a very human hero, whose heroism is therefore available to everyone. The lesson learned here is it’s everyone’s responsibility to act in respect of the others and of the common interest of the society.

While Chinese society of today becomes more and more individualist, “Acting like Léi Fēng” (“Huó Léi Fēng – 活雷锋”) has become a necessity. Every March 5th Chinese pupils celebrate Léi Fēng Day to “Learn from Léi Fēng” (“Xué Léi Fēng – 学雷锋”) by cleaning various community locations or taking part in social activities.