In his unremarkable 22-year life, which ended ingloriously in 1962 when a PLA comrade accidentally backed a truck into a power pole that fell and crushed him, Lei Feng wanted to be nothing more than a selfless "revolutionary screw that never rusts."
The Fengster, a man celebrated as a revolutionary icon of Maoist China for his selfless devotion to the people, has realized his dream thanks to Wan Pi Tao Tao, a condom company near Shanghai in Ningbo, Zhejiang province.
Emblazoned with the familiar "Learn from Comrade Lei Feng" slogan, the price to keep your screw clean is 18 yuan for three condoms in a designer cigarette-style box that features two versions black and white and color of a revolutionary style image of the humble Lei wielding a rifle.
There's also a "Chairman Mao Leads Us Forward" edition, with a portrait of the Great Helmsman, for 15 yuan, but it's the Lei Feng icon that has drawn the most attention for sexualizing the closest thing China has to a national saint, Boy Scout — and presumed virgin.
Unknown to the western world, Lei Feng was, until Mao declared the "Learn from Lei Feng Campaign" on March 5, 1963, a nobody, a cheerful everyman and orphan who made the People's Liberation Army and the Communist Party his family, as recorded in books assembled after his death supposedly from his diary, statements and deeds – “After Liberation I Had a Home, My Mother was the Party” and “Bitter Recollections and Sweet Thoughts.”
Though some doubt that Lei Feng ever existed, or if he did, still marvel at how so many photographs and documents could exist of a nonentity, his selfless, striving example has served as a lesson for generations of Chinese schoolchildren and it's been conveniently retooled through the decades for myriad social changes. Even in the bold new China of money and stock market IPOs, he continues to serve as in a 2006 an online Lei Feng video game (players collect gold tokens for performing good deeds and darning socks in order to "visit" Chairman Mao) and a navel gazing Lei Feng blog in which he writes about his own legend.
“In March of each year, lots of people start to study me. This kind of thing has gone on for years and years. Sometimes, when I'm helping other people, I'll unconsciously think to myself, ‘I'm learning from Lei Feng,’ and feel a sincere joy. Sometimes I'll forget that Lei Feng is really me. Me, learning from an even higher me. Sometimes this problem baffles me.”
Unlike, say, more celebrated contemporary Chinese bloggers such as Mu Zi Mei who drew international press exposure for her adventurous online sexual escapades and essays, Lei Feng was essentially sexless, a man who eschewed carnal knowledge and contemplation in favor of shoveling shit as detailed in this extract from his diary:
"I've studied all of the documents from the 8th Plenary Session of the CCP 8th Central Committee, and I thought to myself, what can I do for the People's Commune? If I collect manure for fertilizer, I can collect more than 500 pounds in a month and send it to the commune. If the commune wants to figure the money, I'll say that I don't have any gift to give to the commune; this manure is my gift.''
So it was with some shock and surprise that, according to a recent edition of Southern Metropolitan Daily in Guangzhou, a mother in Ningbo was digging through her teenage son's backpack and found an “Official Horndog" certificate and an “Internet Marriage License” in an (unused) tin of "Learn from Lei Feng" condoms.
"It drew attention from all levels," the newspaper reported without specifying what levels those might have been. Nonetheless, the mother's ire reportedly reached the Ningbo Industrial and Commercial Bureau which investigated Wan Pi Tao Tao and, according to Zhang Zhiwen, a spokesman for the condom company, fined the firm 5,000 yuan for using "erotic content."
"Our company has 300 different products and many novelty certificates," Zhang told Asia Sentinel. "But only two broke the 'erotic content' regulation: Official Horndog and a Male Virgin Certificate and that was because we used United Nations and State Security Bureau logos on the certificates without permission. We have removed the logos and paid the fine."
As for using Lei Feng and Mao's images to promote sexual products, he said the Ningbo Industrial and Commercial Bureau did not object. "They are both dead and (the images) have been used for cigarette packages before," he said.
(Indeed, legal regulations involving celebrities, living or dead, as shills for condoms or anything else seem vague at best. In 2003 Beijing Nabeitong Company succeeded in registering 'Mu Zi Mei' as a brand name for condoms. In 2005, the Guangzhou Haojian Bioscience Company began marketing "Clinton" and "Lewinsky" condoms and George W. Bush might become the name of a diaper brand in the near future. According to Danwei.org, a blog about China media and advertising, a man from Henan Province has applied to register the Chinese rendering of 'Bush' (bu shi) as a trademark for diapers, because it is a pun on the words 'not wet'.
And more recently the Beijing Times reported the Guilin Latex Factory is developing Super Girls and 12 Girls Orchestra "oral sex" condoms, named after the popular singers and musicians. Though the Super Girl organization has objected and the condoms are not yet available on the market, a factory spokesman, Tao Ran said the names were inspired by the images of a Super Girls contestants singing into the microphone and a female flute player. Both, he said, are "highly reminiscent of the act that this condom is intended for.")
When pressed about the logic of using Lei Feng's virginal visage to sell rubbers destined for carnal use, Zhang had a prompt reply. "Lei Feng would have supported safe sexual conduct and responsible family planning, I believe. And our condoms are stronger than his socks. He would not need to repair them."
* Image courtesy of Stefan Landsberger's Chinese Propaganda Poster Pages