Following the unleashing of the dreaded Cultural Revolution on the Chinese people in 1966, the victorious table tennis team suddenly came under attack. It was accused of being the sprout of revisionism and it was said that the seven world championship trophies won by the national table tennis team were all bourgeois titles.
Rong Guotuan, despite all the achievements and honors he brought to the country, was not spared. The communists accused him of being a hardcore British royalist, and they placed him under house arrest. They locked him in the toilet and tormented him until he wrote his “confession.”
The toilet was fitted with loudspeakers. The Red Guards who watched over him played mahjong while on watch, repeatedly shouting into the loudspeaker to force him to confess. He was subjected to mental torture from morning to night.
Rong Guotuan was routinely pulled out for interrogation and beatings. “He loves to read foreign novels, listen to foreign classical music, misses Hong Kong, and brings in things from Hong Kong without being inspected.” These suddenly became his crimes.
‘Dog eat dog’ Task Force
He Long, at that time, was still very famous in the history of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Mao Zedong deeply appreciated his reckless temperament. After the establishment of the CCP, He Long was appointed Vice Chairman of the Military Commission, Vice Premier of the State Council, and Director of the National Sports Commission.
It was said that among these official positions, the one that He Long cared most about was being the Director of the National Sports Committee. It had been his idea to bring Rong Guotuan to mainland China from Hong Kong. After winning the world championship, He Long was pleased and showed him off everywhere.
After the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, Mao, fearing that he would lose power, set up the He Long Task Force in September 1966 because He Long wanted to launch a coup d’état. Some analysts pointed out that Mao tried to eliminate He Long because of his popularity.
Later, He Long was imprisoned in Xishan, where he was tortured to death. No one doubted that with the fall of He Long, just by association, people like Rong Guotuan would not be spared.
It was a time of turmoil and confusion for the winning team
Before the 30th World Table Tennis Championship, Rong Guotuan and his teammates drafted a petition, hoping to prove themselves with actions, but this came to naught. At this time, Fu Qifang and Jiang Yongning finally chose to commit suicide due to the unrelenting mental and physical cruelty and beatings. This made Rong Guotuan very confused and dealt him a heavy blow.
He kept asking his teammate Qiu Zhonghui: “Do you think we are wrong?” She replied emphatically: “No”. The two of them racked their brains and could not figure out how they could have done anything wrong. Soon, the sports authorities further purged the team and warned Rong Guotuan that he was to write a confession. They then questioned him as to why he wrote the petition. Rong Guotuan’s last glimmer of hope was dashed.
The end of the glory days for Rong Guotuan
On the evening of June 20, 1968, Rong Guotuan reportedly hanged himself. He was 30 years old. In his last letter to the Revolutionary Committee and the National Sports Commission, he allegedly wrote: “I am too deep in the poison of He Long! I treasure my reputation more than my life! I have a clean history! The biggest mistake was standing on the wrong line twice! I am not a spy; please do not suspect me. Plea to Chairman Mao!”
Through what he is alleged to have written, we are supposed to believe that the reasons for the abuse and torture inflicted on Rong Guotuan were that he returned from Hong Kong and was suspected of being a secret agent; he belonged to He Long’s camp; and he chose death to prove his innocence. This is a common tactic of the CCP, and we should not fall for this self-serving propaganda that attempts to turn the victims into suspects.
Suicide or homicide: Is the jury still out?
His teammate Qiu Zhonghui always believed that Rong Guotuan’s death was a case of murder rather than suicide. She raised serious doubts about the authenticity of his suicide note. She thought that with Rong Guotuan’s winning, solid personality, he would not leave such a suicide note.
Confessions were tortured out of him during the Cultural Revolution. He was a highly accomplished and acclaimed sports star and a successful coach. He was a much beloved national hero, and he had everything to live for.
After all this time, we still do not know the actual details surrounding the tragic death of Rong Guotuan. Nevertheless, there is a leading suspect. His untimely death follows a familiar pattern as with so many other tragic victims of the Cultural Revolution.
Wolf in sheep’s clothing
Ten years after Rong Guotuan’s death, the State Physical Culture and Sports Commission “rehabilitated Rong Guotuan’s honor.” Such a regime has no honor and cannot dispense honor or rehabilitate anyone, as they have no such qualities to bestow. This is another sinister ritual they go through to pretend that the emperor has no clothes. Rong Guotuan never lost his honor in the first place. If he was the last victim of the regime, it could have had some meaning.
The former champion was deliberately targeted and snuffed out. By then, he was no longer able to enjoy his success nor to flourish and bloom. China and the world lost a great sportsman and a much beloved national hero. His loss is incalculable. It is said that his biggest mistake was to step into mainland China under the rule of the Communist Party of China.
How could that possibly be true? China was his home; ostensibly, he had every right to come and go as he pleased. As with all those tragic, talented, and patriotic victims of the Cultural Revolution, whether from Hong Kong or elsewhere, it is the CCP that was, and remains, the big mistake.
See Part 1 here.