Sidney Rittenberg was a confidant of Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong), Premier Chou En-lai (Zhou Enlai) and much of the Chinese Communist leadership even before they took power in the late 1940s.
Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Charleston, S.C. He was assigned by the U.S. Army to China in World War II.
At the end of the war, he opted to stay behind to assist with reconstruction. He was one of only two Americans to become a member of the Chinese Communist Party and became a trusted member of its leadership.
Then, just as Mao was on the verge of taking power, Joseph Stalin accused him of being an American spy and he was put into solitary confinement. When Stalin died, Rittenberg was released and rehabilitated.
He then served in important roles in the government until the Cultural Revolution when found himself again imprisoned. Rittenberg spent a total of 16 years in incarcerated.
All in all, he was in China from 1944 to 1980, when he returned to the U.S.
Rittenberg is our guest this week, along with his wife, Yulin, who has her own very interesting story to tell.
She grew up as an impoverished peasant in a remote village in China. The prospects of such children were so poor that their parents did not even bother naming them at birth. She later assumed the name of a deceased older sister. She was born into a feudal country, experienced Japanese occupation, a communist revolution, and the Cultural Revolution.
She was born into a feudal country, experienced Japanese occupation, a communist revolution and the Cultural Revolution.
Rittenberg has been the subject of a documentary, has been a featured guest on several episodes of “60 Minutes” and in extensive writings. He has written several books about his experiences.
This week’s show kicks off our fourth year and is one of the most fascinating Think Tank episodes ever.