China develops market for heroes: The party is reviving an old cult in an attempt to combat the new materialism of the Nineties, writes Teresa Poole in Peking

CHINA has a new hero. In the best Chinese tradition of model citizens, Xu Honggang, selflessly tackled four muggers who were robbing a woman on a bus and then, despite being stabbed 14 times, chased them down the street.

Since then, his 'revolutionary tradition and national moral excellence' have been lauded in the official media by senior cadres fearful that China's establishment of a socialist market economy has gone hand in hand with society's complete moral disintegration. The market economy being the force it is these days, however, the whole hero experience is proving increasingly profitable for Mr Xu.

The front page of yesterday's People's Daily featured the party chief, Jiang Zemin, and the Prime Minister, Li Peng, both applauding young Mr Xu - a 'heroic soldier who defies brutal force and takes up the cudgels for a just cause', according to the Prime Minister.

In the highest accolade, Mr Xu is being heralded as China's new Lei Feng. Mr Lei was a young soldier who died in 1962 at the age of 22 when a wooden pole fell on his head. It was not until the following year that his 'found' diary conveniently revealed that his earlier life had been considerably more politically correct than the manner of his death.

His overwhelming desire had been to be 'a rustless screw in the machine of the revolution', something he was deemed to have achieved by a blameless life helping the poor, doing menial jobs and devoting himself to the revolutionary cause.

In 1963 Mao Tse-tung launched the 'Learn from Lei Feng' campaign that dogged the upbringing of a generation of Chinese. In 1990, in the wake of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the party tried to revive the Lei Feng myth, but after a decade of economic reform it proved rather a flop.

So now it is 'Learn from Xu Honggang'. Mr Xu, by happy coincidence also 22 and also a People's Liberation Army soldier, has now taken up the job of preaching social responsibility. Amid rising corruption, crime and an apparent moral vacuum in contemporary China, serving the people has gone out of fashion. 'People just want to make money and only think of themselves,' said one old man.

The media campaign is rather like a Chinese version of 'back to basics'. The public hero status of Mr Xu was apparently sanctioned at as high a level as Mr Zemin. Television features, newspaper profiles, public lectures now all focus on Xu Honggang.

It was last August that Mr Xu was on a bus in Sichan province when four men demanded money from a woman and assaulted her. According to an official version, her husband was too timid to take on the 'rascals'. Mr Xu, not in uniform, went to her rescue and was stabbed 14 times. But he still chased the men 50 yards and was then rushed to hospital. The robbers were caught and one later executed.

Even heroes need some incentives in modern China, however. Last June the Chinese government set up a fund to encourage and reward brave citizens. Last August, honorary titles were awarded to 119 brave people in Peking. All over the country, provinces are setting up bravery funds so that heroes know there is hard cash at the end of the day.

Mr Xu is not doing too badly. He reportedly received on average 180 visitors a day during his month in hospital. And, by the beginning of this year, well-wishers had given him more than pounds 1,000 - about two and a half years of his soldier's salary.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power