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Lei Feng as a cartoon
Updated: 2004-06-04 08:49

Lei Yu, a 10-year-old schoolgirl in Changsha, capital of central Hunan Province, has won the first prize for a cartoon image she created of Lei Feng, a true hero whom even her parents' generation had rarely seen in person.

The fourth-grader's cartoon featuring Lei Feng and a group of children has stood out among hundreds of others drawn by school children in the province, where Lei Feng was born in a peasant family in 1940.

But contrary to the stereotyped image of the model soldier with an air of solemnity, Lei and her peers have all depicted the hero as a "superman" or a "cutie" and adorned him with whatever they deem stunning - such as a pumpkin hat on a disproportionately big head or a flame-thrower under his feet.

Lei Feng, who had lost both parents by the age of 7, joined the People's Liberation Army at 20 and then spent all his spare time and money helping the needy. He died accidentally in 1962 at 22, after being hit on the head by a wooden column accidentally knocked over by a fellow soldier.

Lei Feng became a household name in 1963, when the late Chairman Mao Zedong urged the whole nation to learn from him.

More than 40 years after his death, Lei Feng's boyish smile still beams from posters, newspapers, television and school textbooks, and his name is known even to preschoolers.

"We never expected today's kids would picture Lei Feng as such a comic figure," said Tao Zhongshi, head of the Children's Palace in Changsha and organizer of the cartoon contest.

Tao said the idea to create cartoon pictures of Lei Feng was for a time opposed by many who feared it might tarnish the hero's image. "We received more than 1,000 cartoons over the past two months, none of which were derogatory," he said. "Obviously, kids today still revere Lei Feng and are ready to learn from him."

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