Patriot games: Chinese heroes are resurrected for computer age

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The Independent Online

Enter Lei Feng, a 1950s Chinese hero who is being brought back to life on the computer screen as the Chinese government try to bring a bit of cultural revolution to the gaming world and provide some "morally healthy" online entertainment.

The iconic People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldier is one of 100 historic figures who feature in Records of the Chinese Heroes and whose triumphs in the name of Communism the authorities hope will instil in young people a patriotic fervour feared to be lacking among modern schoolchildren.

"Portraying their great achievements through games not only gives young people something to think about, but also helps make video gaming a healthier place," Shanda, China's biggest games company, which is launching the online series in conjunction with the government, said yesterday.

Lei, a PLA driver killed in 1962, has found a place in Communist legend as a selfless soldier who would do anything for his fellow countrymen - even wash his comrades' socks. Praise from Mao Tse-tung ensured that generations of Chinese have grown up being told to "Learn from Comrade Lei Feng", while Hu Jintao, the current Chinese President, has often sought to invoke his self-sacrifice to promote what propaganda calls a "harmonious society".

Lei will appear in the fast-moving, action-packed games alongside other national idols who include the imperial eunuch mariner Zheng He, who made countless adventurous voyages around the Indian Ocean in the 15th century. His game is intended to teach children about the importance of cultural exchange between China and other countries.

Accompanying Lei and Zheng will be Zheng Chenggong, the Ming dynasty general also known as Koxinga who claimed victory over the Dutch garrison based in Taiwan, and Bao Zheng, a judge who fought all his life against state corruption.

Aside from educational benefits, the government hopes the Chinese Heroes series will strengthen its grip on the $1.3bn (£710m) computer games industry, which holds a powerful influence over China's youths.

The patriotic games are hoped to supplant the online, mostly South Korean and Japanese, favourites whose content Shanda says "isn't suitable for young people and produces a negative impact on society" in favour of domestic creations.

China has about 20 million online gamers who spend an average of 10.9 hours a week on the computer. The government, concerned that gaming leads to soaring crime rates and antisocial behaviour, last month introduced stringent rules designed to limit online playing to three hours at a time.

In response to a series of incidents in which teenagers killed or robbed people to fund their gaming habit, authorities in the capital, Beijing, also banned people under 18 from playing games featuring killings.

Game developers have been told they must develop identity systems that prevent minors from playing particularly violent games.