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Sidney Rittenberg in 2012
Sidney Rittenberg (Chinese: 李敦白; pinyin: Lǐ Dūnbái; August 14, 1921 – August 24, 2019) was an American journalist, scholar, and Chinese linguist who lived in China from 1944 to 1980. He worked closely with Mao Zedong, Zhu De, Zhou Enlai, and other leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) during the Chinese Communist Revolution, and was with these central Communist leaders at Yan'an. He witnessed first-hand much of what occurred at upper levels of the CCP and knew many of its leaders personally, approving of the crackdown on dissidents and the policies which led to the Great Chinese Famine which caused the deaths of approximately 30 million Chinese. Later, he was imprisoned in solitary confinement, twice. He was the first American citizen to join the CCP.
Rittenberg was born into a Jewish family in Charleston, South Carolina and he lived there until his college studies. He was the son of Muriel (Sluth) and Sidney Rittenberg, who was president of the Charleston City Council. After attending Porter Military Academy, he turned down a full scholarship to Princeton University and instead attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in philosophy. While attending Chapel Hill, he became a member of the Dialectic Society and the US Communist Party. When he arrived in China, he was sent to bring a $26 check to the family of a girl who was killed by a drunken US soldier. Despite the family's devastation, they gave Rittenberg $6 for his help. It was at that point that "something inside Sidney Rittenberg shifted."
Interpreting for Mao
In 1949, immediately before the formal surrender of Beijing to the Communists, Rittenberg said he was summoned to the capital and he went, expecting to play a role in promoting the Communist takeover to the rest of the world. In fact Rittenberg was arrested as a spy and placed in solitary confinement, reportedly because the Soviet Union had denounced him as a US agent. Rittenberg attributes his survival in solitary confinement to a poem by Edwin Markham:
- They drew a circle that shut me out
- Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
- But love and I had the wit to win;
- We drew a circle that took them in.
On his release in 1957 Rittenberg remained a strong supporter of Mao and actively and enthusiastically supported the Great Leap Forward. Later he was a supporter of the Cultural Revolution and briefly associated with Made Mao's inner circle - leading a group of rebels to take over the state broadcasting institution. On April 8, 1967, the People's Daily published a long article written by him.
Rittenberg said, though, that after he objected to the excesses of the period he was arrested and placed back in solitary confinement, from 1967 to 1977. On his release he emigrated to the United States.
- Michael Bristow, 'Sidney Rittenberg: Chairman Mao's Favourite American', BBC, 30 June 2011.
- MARK MCDONALD (2012-07-10). "The Man Who Stayed Behind in China Comes Into Focus". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-07-10.
- McFadden, Robert D. (August 24, 2019). "Sidney Rittenberg, Idealistic American Aide to Mao Who Evolved to Counsel Capitalists, Dies at 98" – via NYTimes.com.
- "Sidney Rittenberg". Wilson Center. Dec 16, 2016. Retrieved Aug 26, 2019.
- Hooper, Beverley (July 1, 2016). Foreigners under Mao: Western Lives in China, 1949–1976. Hong Kong University Press.
- Grierson, Bruce (2008). U-Turn: What If You Woke Up One Morning and Realized You Were Living the Wrong Life?. Bloomsbury USA. ISBN 9781582345871.
- Bennis, Warren G.; Thomas, Robert J. (2002). Geeks & Geezers - How Era, Values and Defining Moments Shape Leaders. Harvard Business School Press. ISBN 9781578515820.
- Chinese: 中国文化大革命打开了通向共产主义的航道
- Bringing Chinese History to life: Professor Sidney Rittenberg honored for commitment to building peace
- Rittenberg @Asia Society
- "China's Cultural Revolution, A Turning Point in History"
- Strategic News Service - Future in Review 2004
- Sidney Rittenberg (1993). The Man Who Stayed Behind. New York: Simon & Schuster. (2001 edition: ISBN 978-0-8223-2667-0)