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Spirit of Lei Feng lives on
To most Chinese, March 5 is an important day to remember, as it commemorates a call from late Chairman Mao Zedong 39 years ago to "learn from Comrade Lei Feng.''
Mao's praise soon developed into a nationwide campaign highlighting Lei Feng's spirit of sacrifice and dedication.
Lei was a soldier of unsurpassed altruism who died in an accident in 1962 while in his early 20's.
Generations of children have studied the young hero's life. Every March 5, which is the anniversary of Mao's statement, soldiers, students and workers vow to do such good turns as environmental cleanups or polishing metal street dividers.
Most middle-aged Chinese have learned about Lei's dedication and altruism in their school days.
An orphan who was raised by the government, Lei took every opportunity to help those around him. In his spare time, he helped build teaching classrooms, and he used his limited savings to donate to disaster-stricken areas.
One rainy night in 1962, Lei stepped out of a truck driven by a fellow soldier, Qiao Anshan, and the truck slipped and knocked down a telephone pole that struck and killed him.
Many middle-aged people still recite excerpts from Lei's diary, which was discovered after his death. "A person's life is limited, but to serve people is unlimited.''
Lei's image has been enhanced through decades of publicity as well as the film "Lei Feng.''
Fellow soldier Qiao also became famous after the film "The Days after Lei Feng Left'' was released. The film documents Qiao's commitment to helping others as a way of continuing the spirit of Lei.
The younger generation, however, seems a bit cool to Lei Feng stories.
Sociologists admit that stories about the hero might be too ancient to impress a later generation living in vastly different social circumstances.
Nevertheless, millions of people have registered every year as volunteers serving a variety of societies assisting youth and elderly people.
Xie Liang, a 63-year-old Beijing resident, and 10 fellow volunteers were awarded "the model of learning from Lei Feng'' last week in Beijing's Dongcheng District for their efforts in assisting visitors to Beijing find their way around Dongzhimen, a central transferring station for the bus and subway.
Miss Lin, an editor of a Beijing-based magazine, has acted asa volunteer twice a month in a women consultation hotline for more than 10 years to help women resolve their psychological problems.
"At the time you help others, you are a happy person,'' Lin said.
In Beijing, there are more than 2,000 volunteer organizations.
"The volunteering is an extension of Lei Feng's spirit in modern society,'' said Qu Yan, a psychological researcher in Beijing. To some extent, she said, Lei could be regarded as the first generation of China's volunteers.
Lei Feng has now entered cyberspace on the homepage www.leifeng.com, which is maintained by the Liaoning Lei Feng Memorial Hall. Old photographs can be seen of Lei in action, as well as examples of his calligraphy. Another site is maintained by the Hunan Lei Feng Memorial Hall built on the house where he was born in 1940.
Lei became even more famous in the cyberworld last year after the humerous song "Northeasterners are living Lei Feng'' became a hit.
Analysts said the song demonstrates that Lei is one of the most admired heroes in the hearts of the Chinese.
"A person's life is limited, but to serve people is unlimited.''
LEI FENG, soldier remembered today for his altruism and dedication.
"The volunteering is an extension of Lei Feng's spirit in modern society.''
QU YAN, a psychological researcher in Beijing.
(China Daily by Guo Aibing)
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