- - Thursday, June 4, 2015

The credibility of the Communist Party’s long list of revolutionary military heroes is being challenged as never before by the Chinese people, who are obliged to endure state-sponsored propaganda and forced emulation of these larger-than-life communist model soldiers from kindergarten on.

A heated national propaganda campaign is being conducted by the Communist Party to dispel doubts about one of the major communist martyrs, Qiu Shaoyun, who was said to have been burned to death by a raging brush fire caused by an American incendiary bomb in the Korean War.

At the time, so the story goes, Qiu was concealed under grass camouflage on Hill 391 that required him to remain still before a general attack took place. While the brush fire engulfed him, Qiu supposedly refused to move to a nearby water ditch lest he be detected by the enemy on top of the hill. He died a hero’s death by refusing to leave his post.

But the official narrative has come under fire and is being challenged, even by China’s elite. It started with a March 29 report in the official military newspaper, PLA Daily, which quoted a People’s Liberation Army military academy’s indoctrination instructor as saying that he had a hard time convincing his cadets of the officially sanctioned story. Some cadets had told him directly that the official narrative of Qiu’s death was “in violation of biological common sense, completely improbable.”

That report caused an immediate chain reaction in the highest echelons of the Communist Party. A well-coordinated media campaign was launched to educate the nation about “revolutionary soldiers’ biology,” harping on the point that communist ideology and devotion to the Party could easily prevail over biological “common sense.” And as a revolutionary martyr, Comrade Qiu possessed just that kind of super-human quality. The China Youth Daily wrote, “We must keep sufficient vigilance against those ill-intentioned forces and individuals who bend over backwards to stain the PLA soldier’s special biology; we must realize their evil purpose, openly, unabashedly refute and resist them.”

The campaign has turned paranoiac at times.


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In mid-April, a tea and water bottling company called Jia Duo Bao, a subsidiary of the Hong Kong-based medicinal drink conglomerate Wong Lo Kat, launched a marketing drive that included some innocuous corporate Twitter-like banter prodding one of its competitors to open up a barbecue shop in order to get Jia Duo Bao’s high-quality iced tea. The barbecue reference was construed by imaginative comrades as a veiled and vicious attack on Comrade Qiu because the company’s competitor once commented years earlier about Qiu on a different occasion. Jia Duo Bao became a target of state-run media and was forced to apologize, insisting it was an “innocent mistake.”

But the party line backfired. Waves of Twitter-like messages and investigative online articles have appeared, been deleted by censors, and then reappeared to challenge the Qiu legend, with state media forced to churn out even more counter-stories to defend the official line.

Equally telling is the case of Lei Feng, who has sat atop the pantheon of communist military heroes since 1963. Lei has been feted by every Chinese leader, from Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping, as the consummate communist soldier. But a growing number of the Chinese citizens now regard Lei Feng as a fake.

Lei was a 21 year-old PLA soldier when he was killed by a falling utility pole while directing a truck to back up. Mao launched the Lei Feng phenomenon in March 1963, praising him as a selfless communist soldier who possessed fanatic loyalty to Mao himself and to the communist cause. Mao’s call to “Learn from Comrade Lei Feng” has created a Lei Feng cult that has permeated Chinese political culture to this day, backed by 200,000-word diaries allegedly authored by the semi-literate soldier, with hundreds of photos showing the comrade doing good deeds to help others while he was still alive.

Yet the Lei Feng cult has become a joke to many Chinese, who challenged the authenticity of the entire Lei Feng narrative. To combat such popular cynicism, the Communist Party has produced a slew of Lei Feng movies to beef up the propaganda line. Many of these movies came out in 2013, the 50th anniversary of Mao’s elevation of Lei Feng to the shrine. Yet in major cities such as Beijing and Nanjing not a single ticket was sold on the opening day for several of these movies.

To the authorities, however, this is heretic “historical nihilism” that must be purged at any cost.

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