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Sidney Rittenberg

Rittenberg, Sidney 1921- 2019

Sidney Rittenberg lived in China from 1945-1980 and knew virtually all of China’s leaders on a personal basis, including Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi, Zhu De, Deng Xiaoping, as well as Jiang Qing and the notorious “Gang of Four.”


Sidney Rittenberg

Sidney Rittenberg was born in Charleston SC in 1921. Trained in Chinese by the Army during World War  II, he worked at Army Headquarters in Shanghai in 1945, went into the post-war UN famine relief program in China, worked with the church organization, United China Relief, and then stayed behind to train journalists and translate major political writings, including the Selected Works of Mao Zedong,  under the new, Communist leadership.

In the Communist cave capital of Yanan, he became a rare foreign member of  the Chinese Communist Party, a position he maintained until he left the Party after the Cultural Revolution.

Rittenberg knew virtually all of the new Chinese leaders, on a personal basis—Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi, Zhu De, Deng Xiaoping, as well as Jiang Qing and the notorious “Gang of Four.” He was also acquainted with the last emperor, Pu Yi.

In the meteoric rise-and-fall pattern of Chinese politics at that time, he received, for most of the time, great honors and had access to top leaders and privileged information,  but was twice suddenly arrested on spy charges, and thrown into solitary confinement in prison for a total of 16 years.

Rittenberg moved back to the USA in 1980, with his Chinese wife/partner and their four children. Sidney and Yulin then began consulting to American corporations and public figures who were interacting with China. Rittenberg Associates became known as a Cadillac consulting firm, with clients like Intel, Microsoft, ARCO, Hughes Aircraft, Levi Strauss, Nextel, etc, and their close friends, Mike Wallace and the Reverend Billy Graham.

Rittenberg became Distinguished Professor of Chinese History at his alma mater, UNC/Chapel Hill, and also served as Visiting Professor of Asian Studies at Pacific Lutheran University. His 35 years in China are chronicled in the book, The Man Who Stayed Behind, co-authored with (then) Wall Street Journal Senior Staff Writer, and Pulitzer Prize winner, Amanda Bennett.

Rittenberg passed away on August, 24, 2019.


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September 4, 1958

Anastas Mikoyan’s Recollections of his Trip to China

Anastas Mikoyan gives a very detailed summary of his trip to China, to secretly hold talks with Mao Zedong. Begins with a summary of his trip, and choice of delegation members, and his living conditions while visiting with Mao. Describes talks with Mao, which covered a large range of topics, including Mao's divergence of opinion on American imperialism as compared to Stalin's, the CCP's lack of influence in China's cities, and Stalin's advice to arrest two Americans, including Sidney Rittenberg, who were "obvious American spies." Mao does not agree, eventually arrests spy suspects, and Mikoyan notes that after Stalin's death, USSR admitted to having no rationale or evidence for the spy allegations.

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Memorandum of Conversation between Anastas Mikoyan and Mao Zedong

Anastas Mikoyan and Mao Zedong discuss the situation within the CCP, the workers' question, the military situation an the CCP's tasks, and Rittenberg and Ma Haide. (Evening)

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Cable, Joseph Stalin to Anastas Mikoyan

Stalin cable to Mikoyan, responding to Mikoyan's report that an American named Rittenberg is stationed with the Chinese Communist party as a spy. Stalin recommends an arrest of Rittenberg immediately, so as "to expsoe the network of American agents" operating in China. Stalin then notes that another American, writer Anna-Louise Strong, is also an American spy.

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Cable, Anastas Mikoyan to Joseph Stalin

Cable sent from Mikoyan to Stalin, summarizing a discussion between Mikoyan and Mao. In that conversation, Mikoyan tells Mao that once the USSR opposed foreign mediation between the Guomindang and CCP, England, America and France changed their positions from supporting mediation to refuting mediation. Mikoyan then draws to Stalin's attention that Zhou Enlai noticed permanent representatives of Americans, including "spies, and journalists," among the Chinese Communist Party.