Former Chinese Vice President Rong Yiren has died at the age of 89. Mr. Rong was one of China's wealthiest officials, and one of the few high-ranking leaders who was not a member of the Communist Party. He helped usher in China's early economic reforms and bring investment into the country.
China's Xinhua news agency on Thursday announced Rong Yiren's death, saying he had died the night before, and called him a "superb" state leader and "great fighter" for communism.
Mr. Rong came from a wealthy background and ran his family's textile and flour empire. He was one of few business leaders who stayed in China after the Communist Party took power in 1949 but never became a member of the Communist Party.
David Zweig is an expert on Chinese politics at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He says Mr. Rong played an important role as a conduit between the Communist Party and the business community.
"He did not rebel in any major way when family businesses were nationalized and worked as a minister in the government in the 1950s. Would he be an ideological advocate of Communism? No, I don't think so."
Mr. Rong fell out of favor with the Communist Party during China's 10-year Cultural Revolution, when hundreds of thousands were persecuted as "capitalist roaders" from 1966-1976.
China's reformist leader Deng Xiaoping rehabilitated Mr. Rong in the late 1970s. He was later nicknamed China's "Red Capitalist" for supporting economic reforms and the Communist Party while never actually being a party member.
Mr. Deng chose him to establish China's first multinational corporation in 1979, the China International Trust and Investment Corporation. Citic, as it is known, has funneled billions of dollars of investments into the country and is one of the largest companies in China.
Mr. Rong was a major shareholder in the company.
U.S. business magazine Forbes named him China's wealthiest man in 1999, estimating his worth at the time at $1 billion.
His son, Larry Yung, is chairman of Citic's Hong Kong arm and now has an estimated fortune of $1 billion.
Mr. Rong was named vice president in 1993, a largely ceremonial post that he left in 1998.