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Many ask how Lei, who was nearly illiterate, could have possibly composed voluminous diaries with literary flourish. Others have questioned the authenticity of pictures shot by professional photographers of Lei doing good deeds, even though he was an obscure soldier until his death inspired the propaganda campaign.

Yet many newly discovered photos of Lei recently have gone viral on China’s Internet, showing the utterly selfless, puritanical proletarian communist soldier riding a motorcycle in Tiananmen Square in what communists term a “petty bourgeois” outfit, highlighting his penchant for girls and the public spotlight.

To combat the widespread cynicism of the Lei myth, civilian and military officials have labored to “authenticate” Lei and his life’s tales, insisting that his diaries were real.

Last month, scores of Chinese Lei experts from the army’s General Political Affairs Department, the Party Propaganda Department and the National Education Ministry convened a much-publicized conference to celebrate the publication of a hard-hitting book that seeks to rebuke doubts about Lei. The book is called “An Eternal Monument: The Lei Feng Diaries and the Lei Feng Tales.”

The book’s announced central purpose is to “unequivocally protect the glorious image of Lei Feng, his spirit and his moral example.”

As part of its effort, the Beijing government is promoting a Lei-themed computer game that allows players to advance to higher levels every time they carry out a good deed, such as darning a neighbor’s socks.

Eventually, the video game player can reach the highest level by doing the most good deeds. His reward: the ultimate honor — a virtual meeting with Chairman Mao.

In promoting the Lei legend, the government two weeks ago surprisingly discovered an 82-year-old man named Zhang Jun who is said to be an army photographer who served in Lei’s unit and who allegedly took more than 200 pictures for Lei before he died.

Propaganda officials directed a nationwide tour for the old man as part of the program to promote Lei.

But — during a speech March 5 on Lei at a military base, before an army audience in the Shenyang Military Region in Northeast China — Mr. Zhang suddenly collapsed and died of a massive heart attack.

His last words were: “I am devoting my limited life to the limitless cause of ‘preserving Lei Feng.’”

Despite the setback of losing their alleged witness, the Chinese propaganda machine continues to promote the improbable communist hero, who is regarded by many in China as little more than a throwback to the Mao era that historians say claimed an estimated 60 million lives.

• Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at and @yu_miles.