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Sidney Rittenberg, ‘The Man Who Stayed Behind’

This one sounds like a movie plot, but it’s a true story, one that you perhaps have not heard:

Sidney Rittenberg, previously a student activist and labor organizer, became U.S. Army interpreter in China during World War II and ended up staying behind after the troops pulled out, joining the UN Relief Program and becoming friends with Zhou Enlai, who introduced him to Mao Zedong. Soon after, he found himself living among Mao’s revolutionaries in the mountains of Yenan following “The Long March,” and later becomes the only American to join the Chinese Communist Party, sometimes even serving Mao in an advisory role. Despite going out of his way to prove his commitment to the Party’s cause, he ended up spending 16 of his 35 years in China in prison, falsely accused of spying, finally returning to the U.S. decades after his odyssey began with a changed view of the world.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Rather than fading away after what could easily have been a wholly disenchanting, life-shattering experience, Rittenberg is now a professor at Pacific Lutheran University near Tacoma, Washington, USA, committed to improving relations between the United States and China. In addition to his teaching, lectures, and frequent trips back to China, he and his wife Yulin now operate Rittenberg & Associates, providing consultation services to individuals, agencies, and businesses who work with China.

For more details of Rittenberg’s fascinating biography online, check these sites:

In September of 2002, Rittenberg gave a speech before the Asia Society in Hong Kong. You can read a transcript of the speech, along with the QA session that followed it, at http://www.asiasociety.org/speeches/rittenberg.html.

For an audio recording of a talk Rittenberg gave at University of Washington in Seattle on January 31, 2002, addressing the Cultural Revolution and its subsequent effects upon Chinese society, visit http://www.washington.edu/burkemuseum/ordinarylife/audio.htm.

This past spring Rittenberg gave the commencement address at Pacific Lutheran University, the transcript of which you can read at http://www.plu.edu/campusvoice/press/03Spring/rittenberg.html

Lastly, be sure to check out Rittenberg’s autobiography, an important piece of this study, The Man Who Stayed Behind.

October 2003

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