Changing China

Giant on the move

Playing Lei Feng

April 13, 2009

A proposal to have Chinese “diving prince” Tian Liang star as revolutionary model soldier Lei Feng in a television show has prompted an angry response from some of Lei’s former comrades.

Lei was idealised by Communist propagandists for his selfless spirit and devotion to the Party and the people, though some historians say his legend has been embellished.

He died after being run over by a truck in 1962 while helping a colleague, according to the official story.

But now, 70 of his former friends-at-arms have written an open letter calling on Tian not be to allowed to play Lei on screen, saying his “indiscipline, frequent scandals and extravagance” made him an inappropriate choice, the Liaoshen Evening Post said.

    Tian was kicked off the national team with fellow Olympic diving champion Guo Jingjing for undertaking too many “commercial activities” in the wake of their successes at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Guo later apologised and was taken back, but Tian refused and retired in 2007.

    “After careful thought, we do not believe that Tian Liang is an appropriate choice to play Lei Feng,” they wrote in an open letter.

    “Lei Feng is a model for all the people to learn from … a representative of traditional virtues,” they wrote. “Tian Liang is an outstanding diver … but his outward disposition is very different from what we experienced with Lei Feng.

    “Lei Feng was a unique and great soldier, and his spirit the embodiment of national virtues, which should not be whipped up for publicity nor made fun of.”

    Tian, for his part, says the controversy is a good thing. ”There would be discussion whoever was chosen to play Lei Feng, and I think that’s good,” he was quoted as saying on a Chinese website

    “At the very least it will get more people thinking about Lei Feng and his spirit. I’ll take the pressure and turn it into motivation, grasp Lei Feng’s spirit thoroughly and do my level best to play him well,” Tian added.

Photo caption: In a 2004 file photo, China’s Olympic diving champion Tian Liang is escorted by security guards as he arrives at a conference about the Athens Olympics in Xian. REUTERS/China Photos

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