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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project