Model of self­less­ness

Ex-sol­dier trav­els China pro­mot­ing the Lei Feng spirit

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

“Fol­low Lei Feng’s ex­am­ple, never for­get the phi­los­o­phy of hard work and plain liv­ing!”

The loud­speaker in Liu Jian­guang’s mini­van mini­van, cov­ered with posters of Lei Feng, red flags and the flags of the Com­mu­nist Party of China (CPC), blares out the slo­gan as he trav­els from Hele vil­lage to his next stop, Gan­quan vil­lage in Chongzhou, Sichuan Prov­ince.

For the last 18 years, the Sichuan lo­cal, aged 60, has trav­elled to 31 prov­inces and au­ton­o­mous re­gions in China in this mini­van to pro­mote the spirit of Lei Feng, a cul­tural icon from Mao’s era who was por­trayed as a self­less, mod­est cit­i­zen de­voted to the Party, the coun­try and its peo­ple.

Aside from pro­mot­ing the spirit of Lei Feng, in ev­ery vil­lage he vis­its, he stops by the Party sec­re­tary’s of­fice and asks for an im­pres­sion of the of­fi­cial seal of the vil­lage. Liu aims to col­lect 10,000 im­pres­sions of of­fi­cial lo­cal Party com­mit­tee seals by 2021, the year of the 100th an­niver­sary of the es­tab­lish­ment of CPC, as a way to mark the day. So far, he has col­lected over 2,000.

Many peo­ple see Liu as some­one who is stuck in the past. Most of the vil­lagers who stop to look at his mini­van are more in­ter­ested in its bizarre ex­te­rior than in Lei Feng, a fig­ure who most peo­ple now re­gard as out­dated.

But Liu is im­mersed in the mem­o­ries of the past, and although he is be­set by fi­nan­cial trou­bles and con­stantly on the verge of bank­ruptcy, he has no in­ten­tion of stop­ping his jour­ney.

Join­ing the cam­paign

In 1971, Liu joined the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA). Even though this was a full nine years af­ter Lei Feng’s death, a na­tion­wide cam­paign to “fol­low Lei Feng’s ex­am­ple” was in full swing, and peo­ple were en­cour­aged to learn from Lei’s self­less­ness and mod­esty. Liu threw him­self into the cam­paign whole­heart­edly, help­ing lo­cals build bridges, chop­ping wood for re­tired work­ers, and cut­ting his com­rades’ hair for free.

When the Xin­hua News Agency did a story about him in 1973, he be­came a model in his troop, which re­warded him with a sec­ond class merit and called for po­lit­i­cal in­struc­tors to learn from him. He was even in­vited to speak at a na­tional con­fer­ence in 1974 to com­mend those who earnestly fol­lowed Lei Feng’s spirit.

How­ever, days be­fore the con­fer­ence, Liu told fel­low sol­diers that he should be in­vited to schools so that stu­dents could hear about his story. This was re­garded as seek­ing “per­sonal idol­iza­tion” by his troop’s po­lit­i­cal com­mis­sar. Liu was se­verely crit­i­cized as a re­sult, and did some­thing that he would re­gret his en­tire life. He ran away from the troop.

Liu was now a de­serter. He soon re­al­ized what he had done and took a train back, but it was too late. All the hon­ors that had once been be­stowed upon him as a fol­lower of Lei Feng were gone. Re­call­ing that ex­pe­ri­ence now still brings tears to Liu’s eyes.

“I was too young and too naive,” he said.

But the mem­ory of what he ex­pe­ri­enced in those years has never faded. “I should reach the same heights as Lei Feng in my life­time,” he of­ten says.

Af­ter Liu was de­mo­bi­lized, he was sent by the gov­ern­ment to serve as a vol­un­teer “aid­ing Ti­bet.” He had hoped to make a con­tri­bu­tion in a place where “the coun­try needed him most,” but was only des­ig­nated a job sup­ply­ing gro­ceries at Ti­bet’s me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal ser­vice.

On the road

Liu quit his pub­lic ser­vice job in Ti­bet in 1999. That spring, he em­barked on his na­tion­wide jour­ney to pro­mote the spirit of Lei Feng. Be­ing on the road makes Liu feel that his life has mean­ing again.

“When I’m on the jour­ney, I am Lei Feng, and Lei Feng is me,” he said.

When­ever he ar­rives at a city or a vil­lage, he earns money by pol­ish­ing shoes. With the money he earns, he teaches peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties shoe pol­ish­ing tech­niques. Liu thinks he is not only pro­mot­ing Lei Feng spirit, but also help­ing un­der­priv­i­leged peo­ple to get jobs.

His story soon at­tracted me­dia at­ten­tion, and in many of the cities he vis­ited, re­porters show­ered him with ti­tles such as “China’s first pro­fes­sional Lei Feng, ”“the liv­ing Lei Feng,” and “the new hero of the Long March.” Liu col­lected some of the re­ports and pasted them on his mini­van. Liu’s deep love of Lei Feng once brought hope and honor to his fam­ily. In the 1970s, his troop sent some cadres to his home in Sichuan’s Qian­fang vil­lage, bring­ing them news of Liu’s hon­orary ti­tle. “He used to be the pride of our fam­ily,” says Liu Guangfeng, Liu’s el­der sis­ter.

Fam­ily con­cerns

But now, the whole fam­ily is more wor­ried about him than proud.

In or­der to save money, he now cooks, eats and sleeps in his mini­van. With al­most no sav­ings to his name, he of­ten has to rely on left­over veg­eta­bles from gro­cery mar­kets to feed him­self.

His mini­van has long passed be­ing road­wor­thy. Strictly speak­ing, it’s now il­le­gal for him to drive it on the road. But when traf­fic po­lice­men see the slo­gans of so­cial­ism and the Lei Feng spirit plas­tered all over his van, they usu­ally let him go.

In 2014, af­ter his vil­lage was re­lo­cated, Liu was given a small apart­ment as com­pen­sa­tion. His sis­ters helped him dec­o­rate the home, and asked him to re­turn.

Liu went home, but told the lo­cal gov­ern­ment that he wouldn’t be able to fin­ish his mis­sion by 2021 if he stayed, and wanted to do­nate his apart­ment to some­one else, much to the an­noy­ance of his fam­ily. His other sis­ter Liu Guangju said, “You fol­lowed Lei Feng your whole life, but who cares about you? How can you help oth­ers when you are in need of help?”

Liu didn’t lis­ten. “I will break down if I don’t fol­low Lei Feng,” he said, and left.

Liu Jian­guang sits next to his mini­van, show­ing peo­ple a news­pa­per re­port of him.

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