I would wager that many of you (all seven) aren’t aware of the holiday that has just passed. I’ll give you a hint: It was in celebration of a self-less hero who died too young, but left a lasting influence in the psyche and hearts of his people.
Did you guess the 22 year-old communist soldier Lei Feng?
No? Well, what the hell, man? Brush up on your communist-era Chinese heroes.
In 1963 Mao Zedong Christened March 5 “Learn from Lei Feng Day,” a day in which all Chinese people should strive toward a more self-less, frugal, altruistic ideal. The young soldier lived on a pittance of around 6 yuan a month and yet somehow managed to donate hundreds of yuan to charities. He spent his free time helping other soldiers, the elderly, and children. He volunteered to serve people on trains when he traveled. He studiously memorized Mao Zedong Thought and dreamed up even more ways in which to serve his country. He also cured cancer, rescued kittens, and could turn his body to diamonds and fart out rainbows…
Upon his untimely death at the hands of a falling telephone pole (seriously), Lei Feng’s diary was found, and the world got a peak at the inner musings of possibly the most awesome patriot since Captain America.
Every few years Lei Feng is brought out and touted as everything from an anonymous member of the proletariat doing his part, a severe scholar of communist thought, a courageous soldier, a self-less volunteer, and most recently, a hip youth with a flare for fashion and motorcycles. Rightly so, this all-purpose communist hero and his image have raised a few incredulous eyebrows. Propaganda and political agenda aside, Lei Feng’s name and his super-human good deeds and patriotism live on in the minds of modern Chinese people today in a few common phrases like, Xiang Lei Feng tongzhi xuexi! Study to be like Comrade Lei Feng!
In America we have Honest Abe, the Boy Scouts, and G I Joe, but here they have Comrade Lei Feng. If someone shows an uncanny amount of altruism and knows someone with a camera, chances are that a comparison between them and Lei Feng will be made, but just the other day I read about an American who was extended this great honorific title.
David Deems teaches in a very poor area of China, the Gansu province. He has been in China since around ’95, and works to develop the schools in the area. He teaches Mandarin and English in Dongxiang County, and raises donations to improve the teaching conditions there. He keeps meticulous records of all the donations, even writing to his donors. His accomplishments in this area are many, but what might be even more impressive is that he has routinely refused to accept a salary higher than that of the average Chinese person in the county.
The man carries a Chinese flag in his pocket just to remind himself that he’s in China, and speaks flawless Mandarin. Yes, Chinese people love this lao wai.
Honestly, the world needs more people like Mr. Deems. Although I’m not sure if they all need to carry flags in their pockets in order to remind them of something they should definitively know just by opening their eyes…Anyway…Great man.
Even though the date has passed, and, yes, the guy may be a fake, it’s still not a bad idea to heed our old pal Mao Zedong’s words, “Xiang Lei Feng tongzhi xuexi!” I think the we can all get behind someone who just wants to help people.