Today's Lei Fengs think twice before doing good deeds
By Yao Minji
A man practices mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on a life-like manikin whose chest moves up and down as air fills his lungs. Dozens of passersby stop to watch this demonstration of first-aid and emergency skills, which are more in demand as people are more aware of situations requiring medical aid.
The man volunteers with the Shanghai Sonic Youth Volunteer Support Center, one of 100 non-governmental organizations and charities gathering in three neighborhoods last weekend before March 5, the annual Learn from Lei Feng Day.
Today, people will be doing good deeds all over China, emulating the spirit of Lei Feng, a young, relentlessly good-hearted soldier who died in an accident in 1962.
One year later, in 1963, Chairman Mao declared March 5 to be Lei Feng Day, when people were to reflect on the good Samaritan and emulate his works. More important, they were do good throughout the year.
Anonymous good deeds
Today is the 50th anniversary of Mao's call.
Since then, Lei has been promoted as a role model who, acting anonymously, was almost continuously doing small good deeds.
Two movies Lei Feng movies were made in 1964 and 1979 and a third, titled "Lei Feng's Smile" opens today.
Last year the complete works of Lei Feng were published for the first time by Sino-Cultural Press, 50 years after his death. The 200,000-character anthology includes diaries, speeches, poems, novels and prose.
Sales director Zhang Dexing of Sino-Cultural Press told Shanghai Daily yesterday that 300,000 volumeshad been sold in the past year: 30 percent to students, 30 to 35 percent to government officials and institutions, and the rest to various readers.
Shanghai Book City on Fuzhou Road, the city's biggest bookstore, displays around 30 Lei Feng titles, including "180 Lei Feng Proverbs for Young People." A major display is be set up today, with a portrait of Lei Feng at entrance. A charity sale will be held. A clerk said yesterday around 100 books had been sold in the past few days, mainly to students.
There are displays at many stores. At the Popular Bookstore, only Lei Feng's biography is available. It's difficult to locate only a few have been sold.
On March 5, it has become a tradition for schools, companies and institutes to organize students and staff to clean up parks, visit the elderly, give free haircuts, fix household appliances at no cost, and generally help in every way possible. The idea is to do a good deed, without claiming credit for it, as Lei Feng was said to have done.
But in recent years, many charities, celebrities and volunteers seek the spotlight, raising questions whether high-profile charity is as good or "pure" as charity done anonymously.
In addition to wanting to help others, many young people do volunteer work for other reasons - to make friends, to get experience to take part in an activity that looks good on their college or job application.
Millionaire philanthropist Chen Guangbiao - who recently gave away cans of fresh air - has made large, conspicuous donations to many groups, but he always invites the media to come along. Many people call him a self-promoter, while others say his approach doesn't matter, as long as people are helped.
"Times are different, and we're not stuck in the old thinking anymore. Today charity organizations need to get known," Erin Chen tells Shanghai Daily. "We won't be welcomed by neighborhood committees and allowed to help if they can't find us online or in media to confirm that we are legitimate."
"It is great to do good deeds, and it doesn't hurt to let others know about it and join in," Chen adds.
Recognition also aids fund-raising.
The weekend learn from Lei Feng volunteer event was organized by non-governmental organization Our Youth Home to match well-established organizations like Sonic Youth and Chen's group with neighborhoods who need various services from qualified groups.
Activities varied, including collecting used computers for poor schools and offering free advice on social welfare services.
In recent years, Lei Feng Day generates lively discussions of whether the Spirit of Lei Feng is relevant today.
Many surveys show that people are very reluctant to be good Samaritans because they fear the people they help, say, an old woman fallen in the street, may sue them for damages, claiming helpers have caused her injuries.
This has happened so often that it is common to see people standing around and not offering to help a person in need.
"We never had such big events on Lei Feng Day when I was little, in the 60s. It was more like doing something good every day, of course, without leaving your names. Everyone was doing the same," says 72-year-old Gao Sunlong, a resident in the Lingyun neighborhood of Xuhui District.
"But my daughter-in-law told my grandson to get at least one other classmate as a witness before he helps someone who falls in the street. I can't say that's wrong ... but it feels strange that you must give so much thought to doing a good deed," Gao adds.
For the dozens of university volunteers last weekend, it was more about modern volunteer spirit than learning from Lei Feng - considered a remote figure.
"Of course I've heard the name, I know vaguely about his good deeds and that he died young, but nothing more," says Huang Beilei, a student from Shanghai University.
"But that doesn't affect our good deeds. Most of my classmates do some volunteer work, like helping people with directions and explaining the ticket machine in the metro," she says. "After all, it doesn't hurt to spend some time doing volunteer work, when we're not busy in school."