In a flashback to a 1960s propaganda campaign, the ``glorious name of Lei Feng'' has been revived as a role model for Chinese youth. Mao Tse-tung penned his famous inscription ``learn from Lei Feng'' 24 years ago yesterday, and China's leading newspapers carried commentaries memorializing the young military driver from Hunan Province who was made into a hero for helping to construct socialism.
This week, banners on Peking streets and posters in buses have appeared, saying ``learn from Lei Feng.'' A few young people from communist youth organizations have manned street booths, symbolically serving the people.
Observers say the revival is another sign of the more conservative political style that has characterized the Communist Party leadership since January.
The so-called ``spirit of Lei Feng'' was loyalty to the party and selfless devotion to the people. Lei was praised for performing seemingly endless, anonymous, and trivial deeds and was elevated into a model of the young socialist who exemplified virtues which the party advocated in the 1960s and which the official Chinese press says is again relevant to the 1980s.
``Lei Feng is the representative of Chinese traditional merit and communist morality,'' said a front-page commentary in China Youth News.
``Self-realization is not and should not be the ultimate goal of life,'' the commentary said. ``To give full play to the spirit of Lei Feng is the requirement of our social system and our common cause.''
Some sociologists say the Lei Feng hero-model was ultimately repressive of individualism, diverting youths' energies into trivial pursuits and rote learning, making them cogs in the wheel of socialist society. One of the most famous of Lei's alleged writings concerned the contributions of a screw. ``A man's usefulness to the revolutionary cause is like a screw in a machine. It is only by the many, many interconnected and fixed screws that the machine can move freely, increasing its enormous work power. Though a screw is small, its use is beyond estimation.''
Liu Binyan, who is one of China's most famous contemporary writers and who was recently expelled from the Communist Party for advocating ``bourgeois liberalism'' once criticized the Lei Feng campaign: ``I don't think Lei Feng is at all a perfect model. He has serious, even fatal defects. His imperfection lies in the fact that he only follows orders from above.''
The ``learn from Lei Feng'' campaign in the 1960s motivated millions of youths to keep diaries of daily deeds, secretly wash other people's clothes, clean windows, and intensify their devotion to collective tasks. He also exemplified unquestioning acceptance of Mao's teachings.