There was an interesting article by Andrew Jacobs in today's Sydney Morning Herald about the Chinese push to re-instill comrades with a sense of selflessness and industry by urging people to "Learn from Lei Feng" - a young man who was killed when a colleague reversed a vehicle into a telephone pole, sending it crashing down on him. Lei Feng was promoted to the status of National Hero by the Communist Party propaganda machine: Lei Feng, industrious, generous and irresistibly impish, China's most endearing soldier, the sort of fellow who would darn his comrades' socks and skip a meal so others might eat.
As Jabos writes: "In urging people to 'Learn from Lei Feng' a year after his death, then-leader Mao Zedong sought to imbue China's youth with a passion for self-sacrifice and patriotism — and perhaps distract them from the hunger pangs of famine that followed his disastrous effort to rapidly industrialize in the Great Leap Forward."
While these propaganda methods may have worked well "back then", today the Internet allows a forum for people to question the push - which they are doing although some of the comments are being deleted by censors.
Jacobs reports - and this was the interesting part which added to the suggestion that "government-sponsored role models strained credulity": previous party icons include Shi Chuanxiang, a happy-go-lucky "night soil" collector; Wang Yiqing, an electronics worker who assembled 5 million radio parts without a single mistake, and - wait for it - Iron Man Wang, who dog-paddled in a vat of cement when there was no machine to mix it!