Happy Learn From Lei Feng Day! (March’s propaganda)

Today (March 5th) is Learn from Lei Feng Day (学雷锋日). Young people are supposed to go do good deeds. Mouseover these 1970’s-era propaganda posters to see the translation.

Since the early 1960’s, Léi Fēng (雷锋) has been the government’s literal poster-child of wholehearted, selfless service to his fellow citizens and unquestioning, absolute commitment to Communist Party leadership. He’s the official Chinese version of a politically fervent, über-Boy Scout. Propaganda posters, textbooks, his published diary, photos, movies, and songs have all carried his message for decades, and today he’s memorialized in specially-dedicated museums, a town near his birthplace named in his honour, an online computer game, and can even be found in advertising. As recently as 2003, which was the fortieth anniversary of his death, he appeared in newspapers and television programs as the model of unselfishness.

As the story goes, the historical Lei Feng was born to peasants in Hunan province in 1940. Orphaned at a young age when Japanese soldiers killed his father and an evil landlord drove his mother to suicide, he was raised by the Party to become a PLA soldier and Party member. He died in a work accident in 1962 at the age of 22, when a truck he was directing backed into a telephone pole and knocked it onto him.

The government posthumously made him into a folk hero by launching the “Learn from Comrade Lei Feng” campaign in 1963 (向雷锋同志学习). They published his diary, along with numerous photos that had been conveniently prepared during his life. The masses were exhorted to follow Lei Feng’s “screw spirit” (钉子精神), a reference to a famous diary entry in which Lei Feng declared his humble desire to be a never-rusting screw in China’s revolutionary machine. A common slogan was, “Learn from Lei Feng’s fine example; wholeheartedly serve the people” (学习雷锋好榜样, 全心全意为人民服务).

In contemporary China, any person who unselfishly helps others can be called a “living Lei Feng” (活雷锋). Posters like the one’s shown here are a thing of the past, though there were some new ones circulated in 1989. Learn from Lei Feng Day is also called Lei Feng Memorial Day (雷锋纪念日).

Additional info on the “real” Lei Feng:

  • Lei Feng – three pages outlining the evolution of Lei Feng in Chinese culture, illustrated with propaganda posters (this is cool!)
  • Leifeng.org.cn – Leifeng’s official (as in ‘government’) homepage.

Bonus Propaganda
I found this while digging up Lei Feng info. ChinesePosters.net and IISH’s Chinese Propaganda Posters page both showcase a fantastic collection of Chinese propaganda posters with explanations. ChinesePosters.net includes pinyin and translations as well. They’re from the collection of Stefan Landsberger, of Leiden University, University of Amsterdam, and the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam. His collection spans six decades. Chinese Propaganda Posters lets you browse by topics, which include the status of women, ideological campaigns from the 50’s onward, SARS, AIDS, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, tons of stuff. The University of Westminster’s China Poster’s Online looks good, too, and includes translations.

Below is an example of offerings at ChinesePosters.net:

Zai douzheng zhong chengzhang
(Growing up in the midst of struggle)
Publisher unknown, date of publication unknown (early 1970s), print no. unknown (imprint removed!)
Call number BG E15/151

The destruction of undesirable thought and publication was taught to one and all. The poster shows the determination and fanaticism with which children re-enact an event in which somebody is called to account for spreading counterrevolutionary publications, scattered on the floor. Judging by the looks of the two grown-ups, this is clearly no laughing matter. The slogan on the wall reads “Struggle to strengthen the dictatorship of the proletariat!”

This quoted text and image belong to Stefan Landsberger.

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