Everything ‘Rong’: A Closer Look at China’s Whitewashing of its Role in Tibet

Anytime “China” and “Tibet” are mentioned in the same sentence, it’s rarely a heartwarming story — Perhaps to Westerners. But some officials of China’s ruling Communist Party would beg to differ.

An eulogy for Ren Rong, who briefly served as party secretary for the autonomous Tibet region in the early 70s, noted him as a beacon of “determination and…glorious deeds.” Somebody the “masses of all nationalities in Tibet can never forget.”

Sophie Richardson, China Editor for Human Rights Watch News, believes Tibetans will remember him for entirely different reasons.

She penned another depiction of him in an article for the rights group’s website.

Richardson notes that Rong rose to power under Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution, one of the most brutal periods of Communist rule in China. He later helped oversee the extension of martial law in 1970, following the violent suppression of the 1969 uprisings throughout the Tibet autonomous region. He later became Party Secretary of the region in 1971.

She writes, “Yet Rong’s and others’ rule was so heavy-handed it prompted a rare public apology by the party’s general secretary, Hu Yaobang, during a 1980 visit to the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.”

Looking back at Rong, Richardson notes: “The decision to honor a strongman associated with one of the darkest chapters of Maoist rule suggests an ever-bolder approach by the Communist Party under President Xi Jinping to whitewash history, the history that fuels unrest in Tibet to this day.”

About Andrew Burke 145 Articles
Editor-in-Chief Andrew Burke is a lifelong aficionado of all things Chinese. He studied Mandarin while living in Taiwan for six years and now works as a digitization specialist at the Yenching Library, which specializes in Asian books and documents, at Harvard University where he also studies topics related to China, Chinese, Asia and foreign affairs.