KFC dedicates China restaurant to memory of Communist hero

CAPTION CORRECTION CORRECTS OPENING DAY: FILE - In this Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, file photo, a Chinese couple walk past a KFC restaurant at a shopping mall in Beijing. The official Xinhua News Agency said the company launched its first “Lei Feng Spirit” restaurant in Lei’s home province of Hunan on Sunday, ahead of Tuesday’s official remembrance day for the soldier who died in 1962 at the age of 21.. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
A woman carries her groceries past a Chinese propaganda board depicting "Lei Feng Spirit" on a pavement in Beijing, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Fast food chain KFC is memorializing a popular Chinese Communist hero with restaurant decor extolling his deeds, in a rare matching of an iconic American brand with Communist propaganda. The official Xinhua News Agency said the company launched its first “Lei Feng Spirit” restaurant in Lei’s home province of Hunan on Sunday, ahead of Tuesday’s official remembrance day for the soldier who died in 1962 at the age of 21. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
CAPTION CORRECTION CORRECTS OPENING DAY: FILE - In this March 5, 1997, file photo, Chinese wait outside a movie theater featuring a poster promoting a movie about Lei Feng, a soldier in the 1960's who was promoted to hero and model soldier status by Chinese authorities, in Beijing. The official Xinhua News Agency said the company launched its first “Lei Feng Spirit” restaurant in Lei’s home province of Hunan on Sunday, ahead of Tuesday’s official remembrance day for the soldier who died in 1962 at the age of 21. (AP Photo/Greg Baker, File)
CAPTION CORRECTION CORRECTS OPENING DAY: FILE - In this July 31, 2014, file photo, a woman looks at a menu with words "everyday half-price" in front of a KFC fast food restaurant in Beijing. The official Xinhua News Agency said the company launched its first “Lei Feng Spirit” restaurant in Lei’s home province of Hunan on Sunday, ahead of Tuesday’s official remembrance day for the soldier who died in 1962 at the age of 21. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

BEIJING — Fast-food chain KFC is memorializing a popular Chinese Communist hero with restaurant decor extolling his deeds, in a rare matching of an iconic American brand with Communist propaganda.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the company launched its first "Lei Feng Spirit" restaurant in Lei's home province of Hunan on Sunday, ahead of Tuesday's official remembrance day for the soldier who died in 1962 at the age of 21.

Lei's example of selfless service to the Communist Party and his comrades was popularized in 1963 by former leader Mao Zedong and remains a rallying point for party unity and public service. Critics question the facts surrounding his alleged good deeds, saying most were based on accounts in a diary reportedly found after his death. They also question why so many high-quality photos exist of the deeds, which included darning his fellow soldiers' socks, studying Mao's works by candlelight and shoveling manure to help a commune.

The KFC restaurant in the provincial capital of Changsha is decorated with Lei's writings and image.

KFC in China is run by Yum China, which split from its parent company Yum Brands in 2016. The company's American roots have occasionally made it a target of nationalistic Chinese during times of tension between Beijing and Washington, although it appears unaffected by the current trade war between the two. The company did not respond to AP's requests for comment.

"Lei Feng has been the role model for generations of Chinese. As the KFC (outlet) in his hometown, we will spare no effort to promote his spirit," He Min, general manager for KFC's Hunan region, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

In addition to opening the themed restaurant, KFC plans to "promote the Lei Feng spirit in its over 250 outlets in the province and encourage its staff to learn from the role model," Xinhua said.

Lei Feng day is marked annually by acts of public service such as clearing garbage and visiting the elderly. Communist leaders revived his memory more than a decade ago to stir support for the party among the younger generation born after the abandonment of orthodox Marxism in the 1980s and the crushing of pro-democracy protests centered on Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Recent years have seen renewed efforts to update his image, including through television specials and smartphone apps.

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This story has been corrected to show that tribute restaurant opened on Sunday instead of Tuesday.

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