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China's Iron Man Returns

Communist Party propagandists are reviving a legendary working-class hero to inspire patriotism, socialist zeal, and obedience among a populace that is less and less inclined to link nationalism to the fortunes of the party

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A clear sky lies overhead, A wasteland underfoot,

A band of heroic men comes

walking.

Like a whirlwind, they sweep the plain ...

And throw themselves onto the

great oil field.

- Song from the ``Iron Man'' television series

HE ate boiled weeds, and gave away his paltry ration of steamed wheat bread during China's 1960s famine.

He slept on frozen earth with only his leather oilman's jacket as a cover.

He said: ``I'd rather conquer the oil fields, even at the cost of dying 20 years early.''

He was Wang Jinxi, the ``Iron Man'' of north China's vast Daqing oil field.

A Maoist cult figure, glorified for drilling the first well at Daqing in 1960 and ending China's dependence on oil imports, ``Iron Man'' Wang is again in the limelight.

Communist Party propagandists are resurrecting the legendary fur-hatted hero in an attempt to inspire patriotism, socialist zeal, and obedience among today's disgruntled public.

Massive protests against party power abuses last spring showed vividly how many Chinese, while deeply nationalistic, no longer link their country's fate to the fate of the Communist Party.

In an attempt to reverse this trend, China's leaders are reviving communist paragons like the ``Iron Man,'' who embody both ardent patriotism and a steely loyalty to the party.

``The leadership is trying to emphasize identification of party and nation,'' says Merle Goldman, a professor of Chinese history at Boston University.

The party has launched a mass campaign to infuse the public with the ``Iron Man spirit.'' Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin made a pilgrimage on Feb. 25 to Daqing oil field, where he chatted with the ``Iron Man's'' widow, Wang Lanying, and her children. ``People will never forget Wang Jinxi,'' Mr. Jiang said. Calling on the entire nation to study the ``Iron Man's'' spirit, Jiang said: ``With this spirit, it will be impossible for anyone to intimidate or overthrow us.''

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