Hall of memories for Lei Feng spirit

Updated: 2012-03-06 07:32

By Yang Yijun and Zhang Jianming (China Daily)

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"For me, Lei Feng is the greatest person, not only in China, but also in the whole world. I've admired him since I was very young, when I heard his stories."

That's the basis on which Ma Shuiquan, a 55-year-old businessman, established the Lei Feng Memorial Hall in Hangzhou, capital of East China's Zhejiang province, since 2007.

Lei Feng, a young soldier who died at the age of 22, is a cultural icon symbolizing altruism, modesty, dedication and many other qualities. On March 5, 1963, Chairman Mao Zedong initiated the Learn From Comrade Lei Feng campaign and encouraged the youth in China to follow his example. March 5 has since become the official Learn From Lei Feng Day.

Hall of memories for Lei Feng spirit

Located on the second floor of a neighborhood clubhouse, the memorial hall with its portrait of Lei Feng outside is easily found in the city's Xihu district.

It is the first Lei Feng memorial hall in Zhejiang province and the first in China funded by private enterprise. Ma, who owns a company dealing in agricultural products, covers all the expenses and opens the hall to the public free of charge.

Before he started his business, Ma was a driver in the army just like Lei Feng.

"I feel that I have an intimate connection with him. We even drive the same model of car," he said, adding that his experience in the army strengthened his understanding and admiration of Lei Feng.

In 2007, Ma read in a newspaper that an elderly man in the province's Jiaxing city named Li Kexiao had a large collection of Lei Feng-related memorabilia but didn't know what to do with them.

"It struck me - why didn't I open a memorial hall of Lei Feng? He had the mementos, I had the money," recalled Ma, who had become a successful businessman by then. "You know, I had made some money and had long wished to contribute to society, which I would feel happy about."

So Ma got in touch with Li, who brought more than 4,000 items of Lei Feng memorabilia to Hangzhou. Ma rented a 200-square-meter venue and opened the memorial hall in December 2007.

Now there are more than 10,000 pieces of memorabilia, thanks to donations from various people, including Lei Feng's friends in the army. The collection includes State leaders' handwritten tributes, photos of Lei Feng, clothes he had worn, recordings of his voice and calligraphy by 100 generals commemorating him.

"I want to keep Lei Feng's spirit here. We can't let the spirit fade as soon as Learn From Lei Feng Day ends," Ma said.

Leading by example, the businessman takes hundreds of photos of Lei with him whenever he travels abroad.

"You wouldn't believe how popular Lei Feng is in foreign countries - many people adore him," Ma said. "It would be a pity if his home country simply forget him."

But that doesn't look likely at the moment. Ma's delighted to see the number of visitors, mainly from schools, businesses and government, increasing each year. The memorial hall has had up to 2,000 visitors a day on occasion. Ma has even had to hire a guide.

Guides from a volunteer association also help out sometimes. One, Li Heping, a 59-year-old retired teacher, said the job exposed her to the real and complete Lei Feng.

But Ma has faced some problems in running the memorial hall, and as he spends most of his time and energy there, his own business is suffering as a result.

He said he spent more than 2 million yuan on the hall each year, including the 1.1 million yuan rent that increases by 10 percent annually. "The expense far surpasses the profit of my company," he said. "But I won't give up the memorial hall. It makes me happy to contribute to social welfare."

You may contact the writers at yangyijun@chinadaily.com.cn and zhangjianming@chinadaily.com.cn

Zhou Yiyi in Hangzhou contributed to this story.