The Hero

It is obvious that all countries of the world differ either drastically or slightly in most respects. However, governments of all the states with all regimes have something in common in terms of their means and strategies of propaganda even though the exact ways of implementation and focuses of such activity may differ. China is a socialist country with a focus on social values, equality, and servitude as manifested through the prominent figure of Lei Feng. In turn, the USA is a capitalist democratic country that, however, is marked by class distinction and a significant gap between the poor and the rich, which is manifested in their access to quality health care, in particular, dental services. The current paper is aimed at analyzing the poster featuring Lei Feng through the rhetoric of Sarah Smarsh’s article entitled “Poor Teeth.” Overall, Lei Feng is a largely artificial hero of the socialist China, created by the devoted followers of Mao Zedong, who did not represent the majority of the Chinese population suffering from poverty at the time of the character’s propaganda. Lei Feng cannot embody the current population of the country either despite the government’s orientation at his popularization.

Sarah Smarsh’s article entitled “Poor Teeth” focuses on the situation relating to poverty and class distinction in the USA, which people’s teeth demonstrate. The matter is that quality health care is extremely costly, and millions of Americans do not have sufficient funds to afford coverage of expensive dental services while mandatory coverages under the Obamacare and Medicare can help pay for basic medical needs only (Smarsh). Thus, it happens that the most visible distinction between the poor and the rich in the USA, as well as in most other capitalist countries bearing the status of the developed ones, is teeth. The author concludes that “If you have a mouthful of teeth shaped by a childhood in poverty, don’t go knocking on the door of American privilege” (Smarsh). Although the key focus of the article seems to be on teeth as a symbol of class differences in the capitalist world in general and the USA in particular, the author’s intention is more large-scale by its nature. She emphasizes the inability of the poor to benefit from and seize opportunities granted by the American dream.

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Moreover, Smarsh’s article raises a topical question of stereotypes and traditional norms that society constantly perpetuates even though they are not essential for the true comprehension of an individual. As Smarsh notes:

It can be useful to acknowledge the cultural forces that carve us, or edifying to indulge in the tropes of our assigned narratives, but true distinctions of character, intelligence, talent and skill exist at the level of the individual, not of the class – or the ethnicity, the gender, the sexual orientation, the religion and so on (Smarsh).

The author underlines that class divergence is crucial in terms of shaping and upbringing personality, yet individual characteristics are more important as they can help overcome class limitations and assist in upward social mobility. However, this conclusion is valid only for countries where such mobility is possible. Furthermore, it refers to the American dream and validates its applicability to the real life even though the author does not consider that the poor can overcome obstacles on their way towards middle and upper classes.

The rhetoric of the article under consideration is mostly personal as the writer exemplifies the average poor American’s situation with dental services and class distinctions in general through her own life. Nevertheless, the narration moves from the narrow focus on dentistry and the author’s personal experience with poverty and lack of access to quality dental services to a broader focus on class differences and implications of accepting them without questioning. The author provides arguments in favor of her position with references to the situation of her and millions of other poor American families. Besides, the article questions the reasonability of the American privilege and dream, which seem to be inaccessible to poor people despite existing belief in the possibility of upward social mobility in a democratic capitalist country like the USA.

Contrary to the USA, China is a socialistic country that promotes equality and egalitarianism of all people and the need to remove class distinctions for the benefit of the society. The Chinese dream is exemplified not through some status symbols like perfect teeth or striving for upward social mobility but by personalities like Lei Feng, who has been a powerful tool of state propaganda. One of the posters promoted within this propaganda campaign is given in Figure 1 below and the caption underneath states, “Follow Lei Feng’s example; love the Party, love socialism, love the people” (“Lei Feng”). The rhetoric of this image essentially differs from that of the above reviewed article. It is not personal, not doubtful, and not focused on a problematic and topical issue that worries the population of the country. In turn, it is universal, artificial, demanding, and even ordering. Feng is shown as a stern soldier, a devoted follower of Mao despite controversial and damaging policies conducted in the 1960s when Feng rose as a symbol of servitude immediately after his death (Osnos). This young man was a real and largely unremarkable person, transformed by the party into a model soldier who supported and reinforced socialism in the country and unquestionable belief in Mao.

Fig. 1. Lei Feng (“Lei Feng”)

Fig. 1. Lei Feng (“Lei Feng”).

The propaganda campaign in the 1960s was aimed at making the Chinese population emulate the example of Lei Feng. Hence, at that time, people should have been completely selfless, community-oriented, devoted to the principles and values of socialism, and not critical of the government as promoted by the party and Mao. However, the reality at the time of Feng was quite different. People resembled Feng in terms of being mostly born in poverty, sometimes devoid of parents, and growing up in state orphanages. They were compelled to serve in the army and live having only the basic means for survival. They differed from Feng in terms of being skeptical, albeit silently, about the party’s policies and values promoted by Feng, in particular, his orientation at completely selfless servitude.

Besides, it is remarkable that Feng was popularized not only in the last decades of the 20th century when his life resembled those of millions of the Chinese. The current leadership of China attempts to revive socialist values by appealing to the population through the Feng’s figure and launching a renewed propaganda campaign even though Feng does not comply with an image of a modern average Chinese citizen. Mr. Xi still quotes Feng, for instance, by mentioning his famous saying that “The time of one’s life is limited, but it is limitless for one to wholeheartedly serve the people” (Yu). At the time when China has been gradually rising to the level of the most developed countries through the promotion of capitalist values and business strategies, the state party reminds the population about the need to serve the society before serving oneself. Nonetheless, just like at the time of Feng, the population remains skeptical about the personality of the model soldier and values he represents, thereby questioning the effectiveness of the propaganda campaign manifested through Fig. 1.

Overall, the rhetoric in the article and the image differ. Still, both pieces focus on the same aspect of symbols spread among and accepted by the residents of a particular country. In the USA, the condition of teeth has become associated with belonging to a particular class and can even prevent people from accessing privileges and opportunities granted by their belonging to the capitalist society. In turn, the Chinese government attempts to reinforce socialist values popular in the 1960s through the return of the propaganda campaign featuring Lei Feng. Even though many people admire Lei Feng as a model socialist supporter, the artificial character and implausibility of his image evoke skepticism instead of causing admiration and belief in the need to serve the society. Hence, the rhetoric of the Feng popularization campaign seems to be largely ineffective, what calls for a need to revise it by providing room for doubts and questions present in Smarsh’s rhetoric.

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