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Students gather around an iconic portrait of Chinese Good Samaritan Lei Feng at Fuyang Teachers College in Fuyang, Anhui Province on Tuesday. The event was to mark "Learn from Lei Feng Day," which fell on March 5.
China's leading military newspaper mounted a stout defense of China's iconic Good Samaritan Lei Feng Thursday, accusing the West of smearing the image of the Chinese people's lasting role model.
"Lei Feng is a representative of Chinese Samaritans … He is a real and concrete hero of the new era, but recently there have been doubts over the authenticity of the role model who has influenced generations, some even deliberately try to defame him," said an article published by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Daily Thursday.
The article listed six sources of defamation, including people who easily believe in rumors and "hostile forces from the West" along with their followers. It also criticized "opinion leaders" promoting historic nihilism in the name of scientific research, referring to their "twisted history" as delusive and deceptive.
Former PLA soldier Lei is a role model symbolizing selflessness and dedication in China. After his death in 1962, late Chinese leader Mao Zedong called on the entire nation to follow Lei's example. He also named March 5 as "Learn from Lei Feng Day."
Lei has been described as a publicity icon by Western media and online media has been rife with rumors accusing Lei of leading a luxurious life and posing for the pictures of him helping others.
Opinions on whether Chinese people should still learn from Lei Feng are divided.
"There are some 'eternal values' in Lei Feng as a Chinese Samaritan which deserved to be learned from and passed on, including kindheartedness," said Zhang Yiwu, a professor at Peking University.
However, Ma Yong, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times it is not defamation if people reveal historical facts about him.
He suggested that people should move on. "Every era has its spirit of the time and there should be more open discussions on what our present society needs in our new role model," Ma said.
"Lei Feng is a role model but also an ordinary person. Considering the limitations of his era, what we really need is his valuable spiritual legacy and its contribution to improve our social development," online writer Xu Lan wrote on her Weibo.