People's Liberation Army uncle tells stories
Artist: Li Mubai
Publisher: Jiangsu People's Publishing House
Size (mm): 535x771
Condition: Good, several folds, small tears to margins, discolouration to margins
Surrounded by a group of eagerly listening children, this soldier in People's Liberation Army (PLA) uniform is recounting tales of Lei Feng (1940-1962) - probably the best-known of the 'model' figures promoted by the Chinese Communist Party. On the wall in the background is a poster depicting Lei, and the visible book title on the table reads:
laodong renmin de hao erzi Lei Feng (The good son of the working people, Lei Feng)
Some still doubt that Lei ever actually existed; if he did then it is likely that the stories around him are part truth and part fabrication. A peasant from Wangcheng near Changsha, in Mao's home province of Hunan, he was orphaned after losing all his family before 1949. Lei's father was killed by the occupying Japanese army and his mother committed suicide. He joined the communists and became a member of the transportation unit of the PLA aged 20. In 1962, an army lorry struck a telephone pole while reversing and Lei Feng was accidentally crushed under the vehicle by the unsuspecting driver while directing it. As most accounts go, his diary was discovered posthumously and was bursting with idolisation of Mao Zedong, desires to perform good and humble deeds in service to the masses, and to assist in the revolutionary spirit. Finding its way upwards through the ranks it finally reached Mao, who made it available to the people, idealising Lei as a yong bu shengxiu de luosiding (never-rusting screw) in the machinery of the revolution. Many consider that the diary itself was a fabrication of the head of the PLA, Lin Biao, intended to bolster public support both for the army and for Mao after the failures of the Great Leap Forward. Lei Feng has since been the subject of scores of national propaganda campaigns using the model soldier as the personification of a humble servant of the people and the revolutionary spirit, with countless posters portraying selfless deeds and films about his life. The importance of Lei's moral character has been stressed periodically by various leaders, including Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, and Jiang Zemin, but with questionable efficacy. In 2013, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 'Learn from Lei Feng' campaign, three feature-length films were released, Youthful Days, Lei Feng's Smile, and Lei Feng in 1959; playing to almost empty cinemas - some reportedly failing to sell a single ticket.
Li Mubai (1913-1991) was born in Haining, Zhejiang province and first specialised in producing the popular Shanghai yuefenpai calendar-posters featuring fashionable beauties, and nianhua (New Year's prints). Joining the Shanghai Zhiying Studio in 1928 he collaborated with Jin Xuechen and later along with Jin Meisheng the three became known as the ‘Three Pillars’ of the Zhiying Studio. In 1954 he was employed by the Shanghai Poster Publishing House, later to become the Shanghai People’s Fine Art Publishing House. In 1956 Li set up his own studio, Mubai Studio, has won various national art awards and is a member of the Chinese Artists’ Association.