Lai Ning (赖宁, 1974-1988) rose to prominence as a model in the late 1980s. During the student demonstrations of 1989, and particularly after the Tiananmen Incident, the Party leadership desperately needed wholesome models, not only to offset the harmful influences of the demonstrating students, but also to improve its own standing.
Lai Ning, who was born in Shimianxian, Sichuan Province, was a "Three Good" student in middle school. As an only child, he enjoyed being by himself, something his classmates regarded as slightly strange. His relations with his fellow students in general were not that well: Lai would often report his classmates, who broke the rules, and as a result he became known as a ‘snitch’.
On 13 March 1988, a large forest fire started in Shimianxian. Lai and his classmates were ordered to help fight the fires. Returning that evening, they passed over a previously burnt section. When a strong wind rekindled the flames, Lai, who brought up the rear, was caught in the blaze and killed. By November, Lai had been named a ‘revolutionary martyr’, and in June 1989, a national ‘Learn from Lai Ning’-campaign was set up.
Remembering Lai Ning Editorial Committee, Remembering Lai Ning (Peking: Xueyuan chubanshe, 1990) [in Chinese]
Robert Tanner, "Lei Feng and Lai Ning: The Search for Ideological and Moral Models in New China", Wittenburg East Asian Studies Journal, vol. 16 (1991), pp. 105-113