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KFC honors a communist hero with a themed outlet in China

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People walk past a sign for a KFC fast food restaurant in Shanghai, China, in this July 23, 2014 file photo. AFP/Getty

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.

The KFC restaurant in the provincial capital of Changsha is decorated with Lei's writings and image. The company did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Chinese students painting portraits of Lei Feng, communist China's most famous model soldier, on bricks at a construction site in Liaocheng, east China's Shandong province in this March 12, 2017 file photo. Getty

"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 in a bid 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.

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

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.