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False news about Lei Feng doesn't devalue his spirit

Updated: 2015-01-07 07:38
By Wang Yiqing (China Daily)

After the New Year, Li Zunru, a retired journalist posted on weibo, the Chinese version of twitter, an apology for spreading a piece of April Fool's Day false news in the early 1980s that said "the United States Military Academy (at West Point) learns from Lei Feng". The apology, which admitted the story was false, has created widespread controversy among Chinese netizens about the relevance of Lei Feng as a role model today.

Lei Feng, an ordinary soldier who died in his 20s in the early 1960s, is known and praised by several generations of Chinese people for helping others, and he has long been held up as a virtuous example for others to emulate.

According to Li, in 1981 when he read a United Press International news report that said the students of West Point learned from Lei Feng and the Academy had put up a statue of Lei Feng on campus, he was immediately attracted by the story with no idea that it's a piece of April Fool's false report. And over the past decades quite a few people have heard the story that the students at the West Point learned the spirit of Lei Feng.

Li's apology has reignited the debate that has been taking place in the country over the myth of Lei Feng in recent years. As one netizen commented after reading Li's apology it feels like a beautiful bubble has burst.

In China, Lei Feng is basically a byword for good Samaritan, and his actions have inspired many people to help others. The slogan, "learning from the good example of Lei Feng" is familiar to everyone. People can hardly accept the fact that what they once took as a sign of Lei Feng's international renown was just a fabricated story, and it has even made many question their longstanding belief in his selflessness.

In this way, the rumor may undermine the promotion of the good Samaritan spirit in China because it undermines the authenticity of the facts associated with Lei Feng.

Rapid economic growth and the drastic social changes in urban and rural areas have shaken people's ingenuous faith cultivated in some bygone good old days. The pure, selfless and altruistic spirit embodied by Lei Feng, is becoming less popular in the face of the rampant materialism in today's society and the eroding of communities. Instead of offering a helping hand without a second thought, more and more people are considering whether it is worth offering a helping hand to others or whether it will bring them trouble. The feeling of disappointment and suspicion generated by Li's micro blog post is another blow to a caring society.

However, the Lei Feng spirit should never be a bubble that can burst. The quest for truth and facts is important, but the upholding of the good Samaritan spirit is important as well. It would be a great pity and loss for our society if we devalue the core value encapsulated by Lei Feng. Instead, maybe the image of Lei Feng that was formed in the 1950s and 1960s can be updated to better resonate with people today.

No matter how times change, whole-heartedly helping others without asking for any reward is one of the foundations of a decent society.

The author is a writer with China Daily.

wangyiqing@chinadaily.com.cn

 

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