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Published on Oct 26, 2011
During China's Cultural Revolution, Sidney Rittenberg, an American citizen, became the most important foreigner in China since Marco Polo. Arriving as a GI interpreter at the end of World War II, he was the only American citizen to become a member of the Chinese Communist Party, and was an active participant in the Chinese communist revolution and its aftermath. An intimate of the Party's leadership, including Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, he gained prominence at the Broadcast Administration, one of the most important agencies of government. But in the convulsions of a giant country constantly reinventing itself, he twice ran afoul of the leadership, and served a total of 16 years in solitary confinement. He returned to the United States in 1980.
Rittenberg's story would be just a footnote of history, except for his exceptional intellect, uncompromising honesty, and engaging personality. Over a five-year period, award-winning former-CBS journalist and China specialist, Irv Drasnin, interviewed Rittenberg to produce a compelling, complex and unique understanding of the 20th century's biggest revolution. From Sid first meeting Mao in the caves of Yan'an, to his becoming famous and powerful during the Cultural Revolution, to his battling insanity in solitary, his journey and his profound insight illuminate a much greater history. Mao's rule over China included both extraordinary progress and complete chaos. As China rises in the world, it is important to understand this past. It's a history few Chinese are aware of, let alone many Americans, told by an American who was there.