An American who lived the history of Mao's rise and fall





"I never meant to stay in China.... I never even meant to go to China."

The contradiction defines Sidney Rittenberg's life and world. Mr. Rittenberg knows China's epic Communist revolution intimately, not as a witness, but a participant - often on the wrong side of history.

Not many people can still close their eyes and recall playing cards and folk dancing with Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and the young rebels in the bean-oil lit caves of Yanan. But Rittenberg can. The idealistic Jewish boy from Charleston, S.C., stayed behind when the US Army left China, dreaming of a new social order where skin color and ethnicity wouldn't matter.

Madame Sun Yat-Sen, wife of China's founder, got him a UN relief job. He later joined the Communist Party, became a top cadre, translated Mao, rose in the broadcast department, married twice, played politics on the far left. Twice he was thrown in prison, once by Stalin and once by Mao - getting out only when those men died.

Rittenberg left China after 35 years, in 1980, battered and bruised, sadder and wiser, but with his spirit intact - still delighting in the language and people of China.

Today, the man who urged on Page 1 of the People's Daily to fight "until the international workers revolution proceeds to its conclusion!" is a business consultant in Seattle and Beijing.


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