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Learning from Lei Feng
Text by Tan Xingyu


Lei Feng reads at night.

A few years ago, China Central Television (CCTV), the major television network on China’s mainland, broadcast a documentary about David M. Deems, an American who volunteered to teach English in a countryside school in western China. In the documentary, David is called a “living Lei Feng.”

In China, only a man of unparalleled selflessness deserves such a name.

On December 18, 1940, Lei Feng was born into a poor farmer’s family in Wangcheng County, Hunan Province. When he was only seven years old, his parents died, and Lei became an orphan. After the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, he was raised with help from the government. In 1956, he found a job as a tractor driver, and then as a bulldozer driver. Due to outstanding performance in his work, Lei was dubbed a “Model Laborer” and “Advanced Worker” many times.

On January 8, 1960, he was recruited by the army. In November of the same year, he joined the Communist Party of China. During his military service, Lei showed great initiative and a down-to-earth spirit when performing his duties. He led a frugal life and used all of his savings to help those in need, such as disaster victims and poverty-stricken colleagues. During holidays and when he had spare time, he often helped the old and young at the railway station near his barracks. When he took trains, he volunteered to clean up and serve other passengers. Also, he once acted as a school counselor and students were encouraged to follow his example.

On August 15, 1962, Lei, then only 22, died in a car accident.

Despite his short life, Lei left a far-reaching impact in China through his selfless spirit. On January 7, 1963, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense named his former military squad after him. On March 5, Chairman Mao Zedong wrote, “Learn from Comrade Lei Feng.” Since then, that date has been named “Learn from Lei Feng” Day, on which various campaigns are organized throughout the country to pay respect to the heroic figure and call for everyone to emulate his benevolence.

It has been 50 years since Lei left the world. Over the decades, China has witnessed tremendous changes. Every time news involving immorality with a severe social aftermath takes place, people wonder, “Is ‘Lei Feng Spirit’ still alive?” For Chinese people, Lei Feng has become an icon of moral integrity, and his legend is enriched with each passing day.

But what does the Lei Feng Spirit actually stand for? At minimum, it contains four aspects: the spirit of devotion in serving the people and helping others, professional dedication characterized by great loyalty to one’s duties, the spirit of creation and persistent innovation, and a fearless entrepreneurial spirit able to embrace hardship and frugality.

 “The Lei Feng Spirit mirrors the core virtues of Chinese people,” opines Professor Wu Qing from China Youth University for Political Sciences. “The country would have no future if its youth lacked such virtues.” As it is accelerating its opening to the world, China has once again called on the people to learn the Lei Feng Spirit, which is sure to enrich the spiritual lives of the Chinese people.   

The Lei Feng Spirit is handed down from generation to generation among soldiers. by Ge Xuhui         Zhang Xingji, an early Lei Feng Squad leader, talks about the Lei Feng Spirit with soldiers of the Lei Feng Company.


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