Because Chinese Communism is an increasingly touchy international topic, a quick note: I am putting up these stories because they are historically, academically and linguistically interesting, not because I am promoting any political viewpoint. To maintain a pleasant, learning-focused environment, I don’t allow political comments here. If you express your political opinions in the comments – positive, negative, or neutral – I will delete them.
Right, so Lei Feng (雷锋) was a larger-than-life Communist people’s folk hero. Though tales of his good deeds spread like wildfire and took on a mythic quality, he was actually a real person: a People’s Liberation Army solider who lived from 1940-1962, dying at the age of 22 when he was struck by a falling telephone pole in the line of duty. But his legend never really waned: he is still considered the personification of Mao Zedong Thought and the ultimate socialist Boy Scout. He was held up by the Party propaganda machine as a person to emulate, someone with a perfect moral character and devotion to the socialist cause, so much so that children were encouraged to foster “Lei Feng Spirit” (雷锋精神).
In this post, I translate one of many, many stories about Lei Feng’s general do-gooding. I chose this one because it’s got all the best elements of a classic Lei Feng tale: over-the-top selflessness towards the common people, grand statements of loyalty to the Party, and all the rest.
Some Language Stuff
If this is your first foray into Communist-themed reading, you’ll learn a few new words that are common to writing from the 1940s-1970s:
单位 dān wèi – work unit
解放军 jiě fàng jūn – [People’s] Liberation Army (PLA)
同志 tóng zhì – comrade
毛主席 máo zhǔ xí – Chairman Mao
党 dǎng – short for “共产党”, the Party / the Communist Party.
There are also a few names of places: Shenyang (沈阳), Liaoning (辽宁) and Jilin (吉林) – all places within northeastern China.
This post centers around good deeds that Lei Feng did while traveling around the northeast on army business. I had a little bit of trouble translating some of the travel-related sentences, because the way people talk about travel in Chinese is slightly different than the way we do in English. For one thing, if someone is traveling within China, the phrase 去外地 qù wài dì is used. At first glance, “去外地” just means “to go other places”, but this is specifically used to mean “other places within China”, not “other countries”. Trips outside of China are usually described as 去国外 or 去外国. Also, pay attention to the word 出差 chū chāi. This specially means “to travel on business”, as opposed to traveling for pleasure.
想都没想 xiǎng dōu měi xiǎng – Phrase means “without even thinking about it” or “without a second thought”.