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UPDATED: March 5, 2012 NO.10 MARCH 8, 2012
Forever Young Lei Feng
Our times need the spirit of an altruist hero more than ever
By Li Li

ALTRUIST HERO: Guo Mingyi (left), a worker at the Anshan Iron and Steel Group who is well-known in China for his charity efforts, talks with Wu Yifan, a student from a poor family whom he has supported for several years, on August 29, 2010 (XINHUA)

Unlike previous generations, Chinese young people today tend to view Lei as an equal. "Lei Feng wore a leather jacket and liked taking photos. He was full of passion for life and a fashionable young person just like us," said Zhang Lei, a volunteer worker and student of Hunan University.

Yan Pei, a young advertisement writer in Changsha, worked as a volunteer English teacher in remote areas of southwestern Yunnan Province for one year after graduating from college. Before registering for this volunteering opportunity, she had landed a well-paid job in her home city where her parents wanted her to settle. "Learning from Lei Feng is not about repeating any slogan, but to offer as much help as one can to those in need," Yan said.

Always inspiring

"After seeing a brand new bicycle in the square blown onto the ground by a gust of wind, the three of us went forward and lifted the bicycle up.

"We should donate our pocket money to our fellow primary school students in Yushu County in Qinghai Province, which was struck by an earthquake in April 2010."

These are excerpts from the "Living With Lei Feng Diary" kept by students at Lei Feng Primary School in Beijing over the course of 39 years. As an extracurricular activity, students have been asked to record their good deeds in a journal to motivate themselves and their peers.

Originally called Shuangsi Primary School, the school was renamed in honor of the national hero in 1990 after students exchanged letters with soldiers of the squad Lei served in for 17 years. According to China National Radio, there are at least 21 schools named after Lei across China.

Despite his enduring popularity in China, recently there has been an undercurrent of ridicule directed against Lei's so-called "naivety." As consumerism becomes the main driving force of people's lives, self-fulfillment and self-gratification have become the top priorities for a great many people.

Some people even began to question the necessity of learning from Lei, suggesting that under a market economy, people should only get what they pay for. In recent years, a host of scandals involving bystanders who refuse to help people in trouble or good Samaritans who become the extortion victims of the people they have assisted have triggered concerns about a moral decline at many levels of Chinese society.

On August 23, 2011, for example, a female college student tried to leap to her death from the fourth floor of an apartment building in Shanghai. Her attempt attracted a large circle of bystanders. But instead of helping the suicidal woman, some bystanders laughed at her and even encouraged her to jump. When she finally landed on a cushion with only a minor bruise, one bystander even expressed disappointment saying, "She should have chosen a higher building to kill herself."

Commenting on the cruelty and indifference of these bystanders, Liang Xiaosheng, a famous writer, said that cynicism has poisoned Chinese people's souls.

"Nowadays the Chinese people tend to label every kind act as 'putting on a show'," Liang said. "As a matter of fact, there are many things that you simply have to believe in. When one helps others, you only need to believe that he or she is kind-hearted."

This lack of trust among people has already taken a toll on morality in China. The most notorious case is the death of Wang Yue, a two-year-old toddler who was killed in a hit-and-run accident in October 2011. After the girl was knocked down by a van, 18 bystanders walked past her as she lay face down on a narrow ally in a hardware market in Foshan, south China's Guangdong Province. When questioned, most of those passersby said they feared being framed for the accident by Wang's family.

In this context, many scholars emphasize the eternal relevance of "Lei Feng spirit," believing its revival will contribute to curing today's social illnesses.

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