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Cover Stories Series 2012> Popular Icon
UPDATED: March 6, 2012 NO. 11, MARCH 12, 1965
'Lei Feng'

A feature film based on the life-story of Lei Feng, the young fighter of the People's Liberation Army who has been called "The Great Ordinary Soldier," has just been released by the Army's August 1 Studio. It comes at a time when the second anniversary of Chairman Mao's famous call to "Learn From Comrade Lei Feng" is being widely commemorated in China. All major cities are showing the film, and public interest is great.

In the two years since his death, Lei Feng's name has become a household word. Songs and poems about him are on many lips. People crowded to see the play and documentary short about him. Eight hundred thousand people visited the Peking exhibition on his life, saw the diary he kept, his dog-eared and heavily underlined copies of Chairman Mao's works, and other mementoes. Millions more have read and learnt from the pages of his diary quoted in the press. By bringing him now to the screen, the Army studio has answered a wide public demand.

Who was Lei Feng?

Lei Feng was a young squad leader of a transport unit in the P.L.A. In 1962, he lost his life in an accident while on duty. He was then only 22. During his brief lifetime, he was designated an outstanding tractor driver while working on a state farm, three times named an advanced worker and 26 times cited for other honours while working at the Anshan Steel Works; in the army, he was a "Five Good" soldier and a "Model Communist Youth League Member." It was while in the army that he was admitted to the Communist Party.

Lei Feng was given these honours not because of any extraordinary feats. As farmer, worker or soldier, he was never assigned any but the most ordinary, routine work. His greatness lay in that whatever he did, he did completely selflessly and with all his heart from a conviction that every job. however small and ordinary, was for the people and for communism. In his diary can be found the now famous words: "I live so that others may live better." Renmin Ribao commented on his life: "It attained immortality in the unlimited cause of service to the people."

The film draws the outlines of this tragically short but heroic life with love and simplicity. It takes just a few episodes, chosen from out of many, that are most revealing of his communist spirit and creates a vivid and unforgettable image of the young soldier.

A Chinese saying goes: "Every river has a source; every tree has its roots." Whence did Lei Feng's greatness spring?

In the opening sequences, the film inserts flashbacks to his early years: a solitary child hunched in a dilapidated hut while outside the wind howls and snow blankets the earth; the child staggering under a load of firewood before the landlord's mansion; the landlord's wife screaming at him and gashing his hand with a knife....

Bitter childhood

At five, the child Lei Feng lost his father, a "coolie" who died of ill treatment at the hands of Kuomintang and Japanese troops. Within the next two years, he lost his two brothers, one a tuberculous child labourer of 12. Then his mother died, the only remaining member of his family. She hanged herself after being humiliated by a landlord's son. At seven, Lei Feng was left alone in the merciless environment of the old society. Liberation came to his native Hunan Province two years later. Lei Feng was saved, clothed, fed and sent to school by the local people's government. With his early tribulations deeply impressed upon his mind, he developed as ardent a love for the new life as he had a hatred for the old. In the diary which he started to keep a few years after finishing primaly school, like many young Chinese people do, he many times referred to himself as "a poor orphan" whom the Communist Party and Chairman Mao delivered from "a flaming pit" "We must not forget the pain although the wound has healed," he wrote. "Small as I was, I learnt to feel a bitter hatred of the savage imperialists and that dark society. I had thought then: If anyone saves me, give me a gun and I will wipe out those wolves and avenge my parents. . . ."

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