Where is Lei Feng?

Article by Martin Zhao

When it comes to the topic of volunteering in Xi’an,
two people pop up in my mind: Mr. Tony and Ms. Amanda.

Mr. Tony, a British engineer and businessman came to Xi’an and founded the Yellow River Soup Kitchen -a charity organization – with the money from selling his companies and assets in the UK, and has since helped thousands of people in need by routinely handing out meals, buying wheelchairs, sponsoring operations for the handicapped, and holding sport games for schools, and bringing books to pupils in the schools in remote mountainous areas. Ms. Amanda, an English teacher from South Africa in Xi’an, initially was a part-time volunteer serving the orphans in Xi’an Home Care Center, founded the Starfish Children’s Service with her personal savings, sponsored the operations for dozens of disabled orphans and helped many successfully get adopted by qualified families in foreign countries. Mr. Tony and Ms. Amanda, despite lots of difference between them, have some things in common: A) They have a kind and caring heart. They love to help others even by donating their own assets. B) They are both foreigners.
One question is naturally floating up in my mind: This is China, are there any Chinese volunteer I can be proud of? Lei Feng, a name that has ever deeply impressed in my mind and very popular across China. Lei Feng was a PLA soldier before he died at the age of 22 years old in an accident in the 1960s. During his life, he did numerous good things and helped countless people during his short life as a volunteer. Most of his stories were not known by public until after his death. For example, he anonymously posted 200RMB to people suffering from a natural disaster when his bonus was only 6RMB every month. He volunteered to clean the carriages and prepared boiled water for the passengers on a train and was mistaken as car attendant until he stepped off the train. When he saw an old woman walking on a stormy night, he without hesitation escorted her to her home 20 miles away. When the granny asked for his name, he responded “My name is PLA soldier!” On a hot summer Sunday, he immediately took off his shirt and started to carry bricks in a construction site even though he had a fever. When all the bricks were carried to the designated site, he left quietly, sweating all over himself. Where ever he went, he did good deeds. Some think that Lei Feng was foolish, while others believe he is great, and all wonder why he behaved this way? The words from his diary may give us some clue. “I was born in a poor rural family before the liberation. All my family, including my parents, died of hunger, oppression, and torture from the evil old society. I luckily survived and grew up in new China with the warm caring from the great Chinese Communist Party. It is the Party who gave me a second life. Life for everyone is limited, however I will devote my limited life to the great cause, and unlimited service for the people.” Lei Feng has indeed influenced a whole generation and more. I grew up following him. When I was young and in school, every year we would be organized to follow Lei Feng and do good deeds on the March 5 – Lei Feng Day. It was on this day that Chairman Mao made the inscription for him after his death “A great life, a glorious death!” As students, we did good deeds, mostly within school, such as cleaning the classroom, watering the plants in the schoolyard, and so on. Occasionally we would be called to pay a visit to the elderly in neighboring community who lived by themselves to clean the homes and other helpful tasks. Outside of school on the day, it looked like a carnival. Volunteers from all walks of life – young and old, men and women – seemed to pop out from nowhere, doing good deeds in the streets. Some cut hair for passers-by, some repair household appliances brought by the locals, some did physical examinations for people standing in line. The whole society was full of love, the air smelled sweeter, the sunshine on that day looked brighter than on other days. Days before the carnival, I could always hear something from my neighbor, “Don’t worry. It will be alright. Lei Feng day is coming. Let us simply leave it till Lei Feng Day, when we can have all these issues resolved for free, whether it is a broken pot or a failed radio.”
Actually, Lei Feng Day was not one single day. It could last a week or even a whole month at that time. Every year when spring came, we knew that it was the time for Lei Feng’s resurrection and we would find ourselves loving and being loved soon. Frankly, at that time we were not well-off materially but spiritually. Sometimes, we really miss that period of time when it was rich in spirit. The spirit of Lei Feng Day is fading as time goes by. Nowadays, pupils in elementary schools still maintain the tradition of following Lei Feng on the March 5th, however we can hardly find it outside school these days. What happened? Is it good? Is it sad? Is the Lei Feng Spirit dead or out of date? To answer the questions, we may have to explore what is spirit of Lei Feng, or Lei Feng Spirit, as it is sometimes called? Lei Feng Spirit is officially defined as selfless devotion and serving the people heart and soul. Is it noble? I think so. Is it commendable or people-oriented? Can we really follow others? Maybe. But how long can it last and to what extend? Behavior depends on minds, minds depend on way of thinking which depends on the values, such as humanity, fraternity etc. So such value matters and this may be the answer.