The Geopolitics of Authenticating and Denaturalizing a Communist Hero

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Zhipeng GAO, York University, Canada
Katherine BISCHOPING, York University, Canada
In 1963, Lei Feng, an ordinary soldier of socialist China, was acclaimed by Chairman Mao as a national hero for having done numerous selfless deeds. Skeptical readers in western countries denaturalize Lei Feng’s heroic status, regarding the copious photographs and diaries of Lei Feng as ridiculously adulterated evidence that erects a façade of propaganda. However, our interviews with 41 Chinese reveal an alternative conception of such materials and the associated project of “xuan chuan” (their term for “propaganda”). Many of our Chinese respondents saw xuan chuan, including particular forms of the curation and display of historical records, to be a legitimate means of governance for the sake of societal good. Further, by focusing on the earnest reception in China of a Lei Feng-related April Fools’ joke, supposedly invented by a western news agency, we trace the history of authenticity in China’s socialist political culture. By taking advantage of the mutual unfamiliarity of the Chinese and the western populations, we argue that authentication and denaturalization are indexical practices, pointing to geopolitics more than to the truth or falsehood of the Lei Feng stories.