Profiles – Lei Feng – The Chinese “Good Samaritan”

20 Mar

The traditional picture of this Chinese "Good Samaritan"

Each March 5th in China is a day dedicated to an individual named Lei Feng (pronounced LAY FENG).  Lei Feng was born in 1940 in a small town in Changsha and orphaned when he was young.  He is famous for being featured in a series of campaigns for his acts of ordinary and extraordinary kindness and caring towards others.  There is an official diary that it is said that he kept containing his thoughts and stories of acts of charity and kindness.  Washing his comrades’ clothes, cleaning blackboards at school, giving his seat to the elderly are all included there.   Unfortunately he died in 1962 when a truck he was driving was hit by a telegraph pole.  After his death, Chairman Mao recognized his contributions and ordered all students to “learn from Lei Feng.”

Morality in China is a tricky proposition.  Recently some very scary stories have shocked people into recognizing the low moral standards that plague the general public.  Last year a baby ran into the road and no one bothered to help – video cameras saw over 20 people walked by the injured child before a street cleaner moved her to the side of the road.  There are stories of old people who have tried to extort money from bus drivers – claiming they ran them over.  Fake products – the melamine scandal in infant formula, stories of plastic in the tapioca balls in milk tea, furniture branded as made in Europe with a made in China label.  It seems every day something new.

I think because of that, with the March 5th day of recognition this year corresponding to the National People’s Congress meetings, the newspapers were full of articles and commentary connecting the current state of morality to the story of Lei Feng.  Lei Feng was a real person, but it is pretty obvious that his diary and the photographs were staged and or screenwritten to serve a purpose which then eventually translated into the cult of Mao.  That said – does it matter?

Morality – why do we do the right thing, why do we help others?  In countries with a religious focus there are saints and prophets and holy men and women who serve as examples to us “normal” people.  China doesn’t have that history or those role models – they have Lei Feng instead – a soldier who did good deeds.  One editorial I read said that China shouldn’t need a Lei Feng day – but until the concept of morality becomes the norm, that he will continue to be an important symbol of trying to do better.  Another editorial said China does need Lei Feng and focused on how sad it is that there are not more examples like him.

I feel that Lei Feng is a bit like the Good Samaritan in Christian culture.  He is a representative icon to remind us that we are all human beings and should treat one another with dignity.  Each March 5th, China is reminded – so let’s see what happens through the rest of 2012.

Do you have any personal Lei Feng’s in your life?

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6 Responses to “Profiles – Lei Feng – The Chinese “Good Samaritan””

  1. Mona March 20, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    Thank you for this well-written article. I want to use it somehow in my classes.

    • gkm2011 March 20, 2012 at 10:58 pm #

      If you do use it, please let me know. I think the questions can lead to lots of very interesting discussions.

      • Mona March 21, 2012 at 8:23 am #

        I will definitely let you know. I am teaching in China this summer; would this be appropriate to bring into the classroom? I will provide professional development for Chinese teachers of English. I would like to give them this article to read and then write about.

  2. thirdeyemom March 22, 2012 at 10:14 am #

    I had these same confusing thoughts when I was in China. I wonder if it is so different because survival is so hard and the population is so huge.

    • gkm2011 March 22, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

      I think that is one aspect – there is a real difference if you are “family” vs. “other” and the way that you are treated. I believe that it also has to deal with the cultural revolution and how being noticed could be a very bad thing.

  3. kapasa March 14, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    i just learned about this guy in my class today

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