Missing Lei Feng

My accidental connection with Mao’s good soldier – Andrea Worden

Each year, as March 5 – known in China as “Learn from Lei Feng” Day – approaches, I feel nostalgic. In the early 1990s, Lei Feng and I became inseparable. I’ve kept an eye on him ever since. China’s model hero of selfless service to the people and unwavering loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party has been used over the years as a tool to stoke the legitimacy of the Party. In 1990, Lei Feng, Mao’s “good soldier,” had a singularly important mission: seeing the Party through the first anniversary of the June 4 massacre in Beijing without incident. He rose to the occasion, and I did my part, inadvertently, to help.

In the fall of 1989, as I began a PhD program in Chinese history at Stanford, I was still reeling from the events that spring. I had been living in Changsha, Hunan Province at the time, finishing up a two-year fellowship with the Yale-China Association. One day in early February 1990 I got a call from a Chinese friend at Stanford. After confirming that Wu Yuting was my Chinese name and that had I taught English in Hunan, she said in Mandarin, “Lei Feng belongs to the world.”