Rong Yiren, a Chinese billionaire and former vice president of China, and Communist Party member since 1985 died of illness in Beijing on Wednesday night October 26, 2005, at the age of 89.
Top Chinese leaders bade farewell to Rong Yiren in the hospital, where Rong’s body was covered with a Chinese Communist Party flag and surrounded by flowers and cypress leaves.
According to Xinhua News Agency, the Communist Party officially declared Rong as an "outstanding representative of the national industrial and commercial circle in modern China," a "superb state leader," and a "great fighter for patriotism and communism."
Rong’s life was closely intertwined with the agenda of the Communist Party and the turbulent history of China.
Rong was born in Wuxi City, China’s Jiangsu Province, on May 1, 1916, five years after Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) was inaugurated in Nanjing as the provisional President of the new Republic of China on January 1, 1912.
<>Rong was educated at Shanghai’s élite British Christian-run St. John’s University, China’s most prestigious college at the time. In 1937, he took over the family business and started to manage flour and textile mills and banking companies.
<>By 1949, when the communists led by Mao took over Shanghai, Rong had become the descendant of Rong Desheng, a Shanghai textile and flour entrepreneur and one of pre-Mao China’s wealthiest men.
For reasons unkown to us all, Rong chose to stay and work with the new communist government, though the majority of his family members and friends had took their wealth to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the United States.
In 1956, when private companies were nationalized, like those who did not flee communism, Rong "surrendered" his wealth to the communists. In 1957, he was appointed Vice Mayor of Shanghai and later moved to Beijing where he became Vice Minister of Textiles.
From 1966 to 1976, Mao Tsedong unleashed the Cultural Revolution in a bid to hang on to power and destroy "capitalist roaders" when millions of Chinese suffered from the protracted harassment and imprisonment. Rong’s background made him an obvious target for "re-education."
According to some accounts, his home in Beijing was ransacked, his art collection smashed and looted, and his assets confiscated. He was reportedly beaten, denounced, humiliated by Red Guards, and made to work menial jobs as a janitor.
At the end of the Cultural Revolution, communist China was at a dead end — the economy was completely grounded. As a last resort to maintain Communist power, Deng Xiaoping "rehabilitated" Rong for Deng’s "open door" policy to attract foreign investments.
In 1979, at the Communist Party’s behest, Rong founded China International Trust & Investment Corporation (CITIC). Based in Beijing, 60 percent of the company was owned by the state and 40 percent was owned by Rong, according to some accounts.
Little known to the world, on July 1, 1985, Rong became a Communist Party member. At a time when membership in the Communist Party was no longer the requisite to survive, one cannot but wonder about the unspoken reason of his admittance in the Communist Party.
Under the auspice of the Communist Party, CITIC quickly grew into a global conglomerate with diverse holdings, from airlines, banks and property, to aluminum smelting factories and timber operations. Rong was instrumental in promoting a new open door image for the Party.
During the pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, Rong issued an open letter calling on the Communist Party’s top leaders to work with the students.
In 1993, Rong was elected Vice President of China and retired in 1998. In 1999, Forbes magazine reported that Rong was the richest man in China, valuing his net worth at US$1 billion.
Some observers outside China dubbed him as the success of capitalism over communism. But there is little doubt: In China, Rong could not have been rich but for the need of the Communist Party. Few, if any, of those who surrendered their wealth together with Rong in the 1950s nationalization are to be found.
Steven Tian is a correspondent for Chinascope.