Lei Feng at West Point?
Only on a Poster

Introductory Note:

Lei Feng’s biography is in dispute.

Whatever the true story may be, he is much admired in China for being a selfless soldier who died young. People are told to learn from Lei Feng. Rumors have spread through China about cadets at West Point being taught to learn from Lei Feng.

I taught at Hebei University in Baoding during two different spring semesters: 1984 and 1989. Both times I heard that the U.S. Military Academy at West Point taught students to learn from Lei Feng. I had never heard of Lei Feng before I went to China, but I gathered that he was a kind and helpful person. I didn’t know what unique qualities he had that made him a topic of instruction at West Point, but I assumed—at least in 1984—that the report was true.

In 1985, when I was back home in New York, I sponsored some people I had known at Hebei University and helped them to come to the United States to study at the College of Staten Island, where I taught. The second student I sponsored arrived in August, and I asked him what he would like to see in America. He answered “West Point,” and so I drove the two students to the campus. After we arrived at West Point, we asked some cadets about Lei Feng. They had no answers. Then a cadet came and—to our surprise—addressed us in Chinese. We asked him about Lei Feng. He didn’t know the answer, but told us how to find to the officer who was a professor of Chinese. We went to see him and learned that there was an admissions brochure with a photo of a classroom with a poster showing Lei Feng on the blackboard. That poster was the source of the Lei Feng story.

On January 7, 2015, a news story by Wang Yiqing appeared entitled “False news about Lei Feng doesn’t devalue his spirit.” The false news referred to was a report saying that West Point had put up a statue of Lei Feng on campus. I emailed the language department of the Military Academy and soon received a phone call from Jim Fox, Chief of Community Relations. He was extremely helpful, and told me that the statue in question was at the Lei Feng Museum in Liaoning Province. A group of cadets went there on a visit. While wearing their uniforms, they were photographed standing around the statue of Lei Feng in Liaoning. People seeing the cadets in uniform near the statue assumed that the cadets were on the West Point campus. It may have been a logical assumption, but it was a mistake.

This article appeared on ChinaDaily.com.cn on January 19, 2015.