Chinese state media drags out Lei Feng in advance of Martyrs’ Day


The Global Times English website today highlights a story about Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 and his speech made at the end of his short tour of the northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang, Liaoning, and Jilin, saying China will unswervingly support the private sector.

Meanwhile, Global Times’ Chinese-language site has gone full retro Communist today, with the top headline: “Xi Jinping urges us to become ‘screws that never rust’” (习近平号召“做一颗永不生锈的螺丝 Xí Jìnpíng hàozhào “zuò yī kē yǒng bù shēng xiù de luósīdīng”).

“Screws that never rust” is, of course, a reference to everyone’s favorite Communist boy scout, devoted Maoist, and semi-fictional soldier: Léi Fēng 雷锋, the original revolutionary screw that never rusted.

Xi went to Lei Feng’s “second hometown”of Fushun, Liaoning, where he visited the Lei Feng Memorial Hall and said that the Lei Feng spirit is eternal, and that Party members should integrate his lofty ideals into their daily work life, and be screws that never rust in service of the people.

Who exactly is Lei Feng?

The story is that he was orphaned at a young age. He had a short life of good socialist deeds, selfless devotion to Chairman Máo Zédōng 毛泽东, and service to a transport brigade of the People’s Liberation Army. Then Lei was killed at the age of 21 by a falling telephone pole.

Why now? 

It’s not March 5, the traditional Lei Feng remembrance day. And that Global Times story is originally from Xinhua, so the Lei Feng stuff is coming from the central propaganda authorities, not just from a Global Times columnist.

I can speculate on two reasons, aside from the fact that Xi happened to be in the northeast near the “birthplace of Lei Feng Spirit.” Let me be frank, I’m just dumping my thoughts here:

1. “Martyrs’ Day” falls this weekend.

Xinhua reports that senior Party leaders “will pay tribute and lay flowers at the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square on Sunday morning.”

Martyrs’ Day was inaugurated on September 30, 2014, “to commemorate those who lost their lives for national independence and prosperity.” That year, an official told the New York Times that “the holiday should help people remember their history.” However, the same article said that “some analysts see the holiday as part of an effort by the Communist Party to enshrine itself as the nation’s guardian against invaders and as the arbiter of who is considered a martyr.”

Resuscitating the old Fengster seems of a piece with the Martyrs’ Day coverage and propaganda we can expect this week.

2. Preparing for tough times

Lei Feng was promoted as a selfless hero during some tough times: Nobody but a tiny privileged few in China in the 1960s lived in material comfort. Perhaps, with economic clouds ahead, Xi is warning Party members to prepare for some suffering.

Other Lei Feng oddities (if you have not had enough of Lei Feng yet):