Sidney Rittenberg

Sidney Rittenberg

Sidney Rittenberg (August 14, 1921; Chinese name: "Lǐ Dūnbái" 李敦白) is an American interpreter and scholar who lived in China from 1944 to 1979. He worked closely with PRC (People's Republic of China) founder Mao Zedong, military leader Zhu De, and key statesman Zhou Enlai, and other leaders of the Communist party during the war, and was the only American citizen to join the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He was with these central Communist leaders at Yan'an and was able to experience much of the life of Mao and his supporters. Later, he was imprisoned in solitary confinement twice, for a total of 16 years. He witnessed first-hand much of what occurred at upper levels of the CCP and knew many of its leaders personally.

Early life

Rittenberg was born into a Jewish family in Charleston, South Carolina, and lived there until his college studies. 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 this institution, he became a member of the US Communist Party. In 1942, following the entry of the US into World War II — and after his leaving the Communist Party — Rittenberg joined the Army and was sent to Stanford's Army Far Eastern Language and Area School to learn Japanese. Rittenberg did not wish to be assigned to study Japanese, and was able to be assigned to learn Chinese instead. This led to him being sent to China in 1944. After the end of the war, he decided to stay in China as part of the UN famine relief program. This led to him meeting the leaders of the Communist movement at Yan'an.


At Yan'an, Rittenberg observed the comradeship of CCP leaders, but ran afoul of the small city's strict moral regimen. Rittenberg's memoirs relay his impressions as a young man seeking the acceptance not accorded to him as a leftist labor organizer in South Carolina. Though isolated in the loess caves of the arid northwest, Yan'an was the site of intense introspection by urban intellectuals like Rittenberg, whose first sustained contact with Chinese communism occurred in Yan'an's uniquely isolated setting. Yan'an was also the site of an ongoing "rectification" ("zhengfeng") campaign launched by Mao Zedong in the previous year. Artists — cartoonists and novelists in particular — were falling under the boorish yet charismatic influence of Chairman Mao, whose nascent personality cult Rittenberg soon began to observe. More immediately than Chairman Mao, however, a young female cadre soon lured Rittenberg into a romantic liaison which was immediately exposed and nearly resulted in his expulsion from the communist Mecca. With the slow but inexorable aufschwung toward civil war in 1946, Rittenberg would be drawn out, and into the next painful phase of his involvement with the Chinese Communist Party.

Relationship with Zhou Enlai

Rittenberg had more of a friendship with Zhou Enlai than with any of the other Communist leaders. In his opinion, Zhou had a way of making friends with people, and knew how not to be disliked. Rittenberg has recounted one story about Zhou, in which there was a play being put on of "Uncle Tom's Cabin", and Zhou had customarily reserved six seats for himself and his . Just before the curtain rose, a peasant sat in the reserved section. When the curtain rose and Zhou entered to take his seat, a guard told the peasant to move. Zhou, however, stopped the peasant, brought him back to his seat, and sat next to him. An argument ensued about how Zhou couldn't do this, so Zhou threatened to leave, and instead one of the guards decided to sit somewhere else and the play began. According to Sidney, Zhou also knew how to keep himself from becoming arrogant. When a person would try to flatter Zhou, Zhou would rebuke them for it.

Interpreting for Mao

Twice, Rittenberg interpreted a message for the United States from Mao. The message was the same both times. Mao said that after the war was over in China, and after Mao became the leader of the country, he wanted to still have a good relationship with the United States. This was for two reasons. First, because the United States was the only one that could supply him with the money he needed to rebuild the country. Second, because Mao didn't want to depend on the Soviets. Both times this message was delivered, they were rebuked by Roosevelt. Sidney believes, had Roosevelt decided to talk to Mao, both the Korean War and the Vietnam War could possibly have been averted.

First imprisonment

In 1949, Rittenberg was imprisoned in solitary confinement for supposedly being a member of a spy network in connection with an international spy network "uncovered" in the Soviet Union. For one year, he was kept in a completely dark room, and was kept for five years after that before he was finally released. Rittenberg attributes his release to a poem by Edwin Markham:

:"He 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 him in.

Rittenberg recalled hearing this poem from his sister when he was sick as a child, and, upon his imprisonment, it came back to him, and he used it as inspiration to convince the Communists to release him. In 1955, he was released, which he claims he owes to Stalin's death.

Cultural Revolution

During the Cultural Revolution, Rittenberg was radicalised and in the summer of 1967 headed the "Dr. Norman Bethune - Yan'an rebel group" (白求恩-延安造反团), which had about seventy members. He led political struggles at China Radio International. Han Suyin at that time said that Rittenberg was in complete control of the radio station. On April 8th, 1967, the People's Daily published a long article written by him (《中国文化大革命打开了通向共产主义的航道》). On April 10th, he represented a faction of foreigners in struggle session against Wang Guangmei 王光美 at Tsinghua University. He also attacked other foreigners who were living in Beijing at that time, including Dr. Ma Haide 马海德 (George Hatem). Ma Haide had advised Rittenberg not to interfere in Chinese political affairs.

econd imprisonment

After several people were labelled as "516 elements" (五一六分子) in September 1967, foreigners also became targets of that campaign and were labelled "516 elements" and foreign spies. A poster with the title "How an American seized red power at Radio China International" was put up at the radio station, and Rittenberg was also criticised in a poster at the Friendship Hotel, where many foreigners were living.

In February 1968, several members of the "Dr. Norman Bethune - Yan'an rebel group" were arrested, among them Israel Epstein and his wife Elsie Fairfax-Cholmeley ("Qiū Mòlì" 丘茉莉), Michael Shapiro and Rittenberg. This time, the reason for his arrest was supposed actions and criticisms against the dictatorship and bureaucracy. Ironically, he was also charged with connections with the "Chinese Khrushchev" Liu Shaoqi, whom Rittenberg had strongly criticised in the previous campaigns. His wife, Wang Yulin (Chinese: 王玉琳) was sent to a "May Seventh Cadre School". During his stay he penned a new Confucian saying: "Man who climbs out on limb should listen carefully for sound of saw." According to him, he couldn't hear the saw until it was too late.

On International Women's Day, March 8, 1973, there was a reception for foreign experts in the Great Hall of the People, most of whom had been released by that time. Zhou Enlai spoke and apologised to the foreigners, but also said: "There are also some foreigners who during the Cultural Revolution participated in a certain organisation, who participated in destructive activities of bad elements. Sidney Rittenberg is one of those people; he was involved in the counterrevolutionary clique of Wang Li, Guan Feng and Qi Benyu."

In November 1977, Rittenberg was released and rehabilitated — probably as the last of all the foreigners. In March 1980, he moved back to the United States.

Present day

Rittenberg is a faculty member in the Chinese Studies Program at Pacific Lutheran University. He is married to Yulin, and has four children. In 1993, he wrote a book entitled "The Man Who Stayed Behind", with the aid of Amanda Bennett.

Rittenberg and his wife operate Rittenberg & Associates, a consulting firm that provides assistance to businesses who work with Chinese companies. Some of their best-known clients include Billy Graham and Mike Wallace. Rittenberg frequently speaks about his experiences in China, and is currently living on Fox Island, Washington (state). In an interview in 2008, he criticized the neoconservative and Bush's administration's view of China as a threat.

ee also

*Anna Louise Strong
*Sidney Shapiro
*American journalists


*Sidney Rittenberg."The Man Who Stayed Behind." New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Sidney Rittenberg — (* 14. August 1921 in Charleston, South Carolina; Chinesischer Name: Lǐ Dūnbái 李敦白) ist ein amerikanischer Dolmetscher und Gelehrter, der von 1944 bis 1979 in China lebte. Er arbeitete eng mit dem Gründer der Kommunistischen Partei Chinas, Mao… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Rittenberg — ist der Name folgender Personen: Joseph Gallus Rittenberg (* 1948), österreichischer Fotograf, Bühnenbildner und Maler Sidney Rittenberg (* 1921), US amerikanischer Dolmetscher und Gelehrter Diese Seite ist eine Begriffsklärung …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Sidney Shapiro — (zh cp|c=沙博理|p=Shā Bólǐ) (born December 23, 1915) is an American born author and translator who has lived in China since 1947. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he is of Jewish ethnicity. He resides in Beijing, and is a member of the Chinese People s… …   Wikipedia

  • Liste der Biografien/Rit — Biografien: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Israel Epstein — Demande de traduction Israel Epstein → Israe …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Mao Zedong — Mao redirects here. For other uses, see Mao (disambiguation). This is a Chinese name; the family name is Mao. Mao Ze dong 毛泽东 Official 1967 Portrait of Mao Ze …   Wikipedia

  • Anna Louise Strong — Anna Louise Strong. Anna Louise Strong. Anna Louise Strong (* 24. November 188 …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • History of the Jews in China — Part of a series of articles on Jews and Judaism …   Wikipedia

  • Israel Epstein — (April 20, 1915 in Warsaw, Poland ndash; May 26, 2005 in Beijing, China, Chinese name: zh. 伊斯雷尔·爱泼斯坦, Pinyin: Yīsīléi ěr Àipōsītǎn ) was a Chinese journalist and author. He was one of the few foreign born non Chinese to become a member of the… …   Wikipedia

  • American Chinese — may refer to:* Sino American relations * Chinese American, US citizens/residents of Chinese origin or descent ** American born Chinese, a subset of the above category * Americans who settled in the People s Republic of China, especially those who …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.