Rong’s enterprise during the Republic of China (1912-1949) was a household name. Rong Zongjing and Rong Desheng founded more than 20 private enterprises in Wuxi, a city near Shanghai and other locations. These enterprises were mainly in the cotton milling and flour industries, so they became known as “the king of cotton yarn” and “the king of flour.” The brothers were active and respected in the business for decades and significantly impacted China’s economy. Rong Desheng had a son named Rong Yiren, also dubbed the “Red Capitalist” by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Rong Yiren was born in May 1916, graduated with a degree in history from the Shanghai St. John’s University, and then took over the family business. He became the Assistant Manager of Wuxi Maoxin Flour Company in 1937, Director of Shanghai Hefeng Enterprise Company in 1939, Director and Manager of Shanghai Sanxin Bank in 1943, and Manager of Wuxi Maoxin Flour Company in 1945.
In the late period of the Kuomintang and Communist Civil War, many business owners in Shanghai took their fortune to Hong Kong or Taiwan to seek new opportunities. The Rong family was no exception. Rong Desheng’s two other sons, Rong Erren and Rong Yanren, left Shanghai. Rong Yiren was faced with a predicament — whether to leave mainland China or stay to help build a new nation under the Communists. Finally, after much deliberation, the father and son, Rong Desheng and Rong Yiren, decided to remain in mainland China.
Before departing for Hong Kong, Rong Desheng’s other son, Rong Erren, made a pact with brother Rong Yiren such that one of them would stay in the mainland and the other would go abroad. If there was no problem in the mainland, he (Rong Erren) would return to the mainland. After the communists took over China, Rong Erren returned to China briefly, but in 1951, he immigrated to the United States. This decision spared him the tragedy Rong Yiren and his family faced in the years to come while remaining in China.
Father and son, Rong Desheng and Rong Yiren, who stayed in mainland China, were initially well-treated by the Communist government for their cooperation and substantial contribution of raw materials and products. But soon, the government began to confiscate private enterprises and turned them into state-owned properties as part of the economic reform. In 1956, the Rong family handed over to the government all of its assets comprised of 56 textile, flour, and other enterprises. In return, then the mayor of Shanghai, Chen Yi, declared Rong Yiren as the “Red Capitalist.”
Because of Rong Yiren’s family influence abroad, and to confuse the outside world, the Communist government came up with a strategy to patronize Rong Yiren. He was first appointed the vice-mayor of Shanghai in 1957 and then promoted to be the Vice Minister of Textiles in 1959. Later, he served as an economic adviser for the government.
Despite the prestigious positions he was given in the Communist regime, Rong Yiren felt insecure. He was compelled to prove his allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party after witnessing the disastrous fate of many entrepreneurs around him. He applied to become a member of the Chinese Communist Party four times but was rejected.
According to the Hong Kong magazine Dong Xiang, in June 1951, Rong Yiren, then 35, applied to join the Chinese Communist Party for the first time. The mayor of Shanghai, Chen Yi, told Rong Yiren: “It will be more convenient for you to stay outside the Party and in this way, you can do more. In another ten years, when you celebrate your 45th birthday, I will be your party referral.”
At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, Rong Yiren and his family were implicated. Rong Yiren was beaten by an iron rod and suffered a broken index finger. His wife, Yang Jianqing, and their mentally disabled daughter Zhiyuan were not spared from torture. Rong Yiren was later given a hard labor job to carry coal at a boiler room where he injured his back. He lost the vision in his left eye after suffering bleeding from the fungus without proper treatment. Regardless of his conditions, Rong Yiren was forced to take on the job of cleaning bathrooms.
Unimaginably, in April 1985, the 69-year-old Rong Yiren again applied to join the Communist Party after all the hardships he and his family endured. This time, he finally got accepted. In February 1986, Rong Yiren was made a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and was responsible for economy and “democratic party” affairs.
Unexpectedly, within a few years after joining the Chinese Communist Party, Rong Yiren requested to withdraw his membership three times. His first request came after the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989. His second request was prompted by a feud with the former President, Jiang Zemin. His third request was in June 2000 when Rong Yiren retired and demanded the government to allow other parties to participate in politics. Jiang Zemin told him to back off, but Rong Yiren persisted and, in a rage, he stopped participating in all activities in the Communist Party.
Rong Yiren died in Beijing at the age of 88 in October 2005. He left his final words titled “I want to say a few words to the Party.” He wrote: “A party that loses its principles, does not abide by the law, does not serve its people, and only pursues monetary interests, is a party that will not have a future and betrays the People’s Republic.”
If Rong Yiren lived to see today’s social chaos and the monstrous crime of live organ harvesting that is taking place in China, he would regret his decision to stay in mainland China to help the Communists.
Translation by Chua BC
Edited by Angela M.