Blog post renews West Point debate

Updated: 2015-01-08 09:54

By ZHAO XINYING(Chian Daily)

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The question whether the United States Military Academy at West Point paid homage to Lei Feng, a model Chinese soldier from the Mao Zedong era, may remain unsolved.

Anecdotes about West Point cadets attempting to know Lei have become the focus of public attention from time to time in past decades. Now, the topic of the military hero is stirring heated discussion again because of the confession of a former Xinhua News Agency journalist on his microblog on Sunday.

Li Zhurun, the former journalist, said he read in foreign media on April Fools' Day-April 1- in 1981 that cadets at West Point were learning from Lei, and that they even sang a popular Chinese song extolling him.

"I put the story into one of my articles without a second thought, and didn't realize anything was wrong until I read a magazine article in 1997 saying that it was just an April Fool's Day prank," he recalled.

"Since then, I have been telling students in my class not to make a similar mistake. I feel sorry for the mistake I made and will take all the responsibility for that," said Li, who is now a part-time lecturer at Beijing Foreign Studies University's school of journalism and communication.

Despite Li's efforts to clear up the facts in the past 20 years, some people in China still appear to believe that cadets at West Point once worshipped Lei, at least for a period of time, presenting as evidence a photo showing a picture of Lei on the wall of a West Point classroom.

The photo, printed on a recruiting pamphlet for West Point, was provided by Tian Zhifang, who once worked as a secretary at the Chinese embassy in the US and visited the academy twice, according to People's Liberation Army Daily.

However, some who had also visited West Point and had talked to graduates of the academy presented a more nuanced view.

Jin Yi'nan, a strategic expert and professor at National Defence University PLA China, told PLA Daily that pictures of Lei were, in fact, posted at West Point and that stories about Lei were told to cadets, but only for the purpose of "getting familiar with Chinese troops, soldiers and their icon, rather than to learn from Lei".