- - Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lei Feng, the famed half-real, half-fabricated communist model soldier — killed when a telephone pole fell on him more than 50 years ago — is making a dramatic comeback in China’s cultural and political life, thanks to vigorous promotion by the Communist Party’s new leader, Xi Jinping.

Within an hour of being anointed general secretary of the Communist Party, Mr. Xi quoted Comrade Lei during his inaugural speech to the nation in November.

“The time of one’s life is limited, but it is limitless for one to wholeheartedly serve the people,” Mr. Xi stated, quoting the famous saying of the deceased model soldier.

Since then, the entire nation has been the target of the latest propaganda campaign exalting the life and devotion of Lei.

The campaign was a prominent theme at the ongoing annual meetings of the rubber-stamp National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

“[Lei‘s] power of faith [in communism], love for all, selfless spirit, and desire to excel are the best reflection of our national spirit. They are our ‘national backbone,’” Mr. Xi told delegates to the meetings March 6.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the day Mao Zedong first learned of Lei, about seven months after the soldier’s death Aug. 15, 1962.

On March 5, 1963, Mao launched a nationwide “Learning from Comrade Lei Feng” campaign.

Lei has since become a political icon in the nation and represented a perfect communist moral order that is characterized by unswerving devotion to communist ideology, selfless spirit in helping others, and, most important, a fanatic loyalty to the leader of the Chinese Communist Party.

On that fateful August day in 1962, Lei, then an obscure 21-year-old soldier in an army transportation unit stationed in the Northeast province of Liaoning, was killed in a traffic accident.

He had been directing a truck that was backing up. The truck struck a telephone pole. The pole fell on Lei, and a legend was born.

After his death, political commissars in his unit allegedly discovered volumes of Lei’s diaries with 200,000 words of fanatical admiration for Mao, daily affirmations of his faith in communism, and his devotion to selfless deeds.

Mao’s defense chief, Marshal Lin Biao, decided to make a hero out of the common soldier, whose devotion to Mao came as China was recovering from Mao’s disastrous “Great Leap Forward,” which tried to promote rapid advances in agriculture and manufacturing but resulted in massive famine and millions of deaths.

Lei’s legend survived Mao’s death in 1976 and spread in different sections of China’s communist hierarchy through official propaganda.

However, China’s populace has become increasingly skeptical about Lei and whether the model soldier of the propaganda campaign ever existed.

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