STANLEY RITTENBERG AND WESTERN PERCEPTIONS OF MAO AND THE COMMUNISTS

SYMPATHETIC WESTERN VIEWS OF MAO AND THE COMMUNISTS


Mao in 1946

For a long while it was quite fashionable in the West to be sympathetic and even supportive and enthusiastic about Mao Zedong the Communists in China. Pankaj Mishra wrote in The New Yorker: “Many Western intellectuals, recoiling from the excesses of McCarthyism, and hampered by lack of firsthand information, gave the benefit of the doubt to Mao in the decade that followed. Travelling to China in 1955, Simone de Beauvoir drew a sympathetic picture of a new nation overcoming the aftereffects of foreign invasions, internecine warfare, natural disasters, and economic collapse. Neither Paradise nor Hell, China was another peasant country where people were trying to break out of “the agonizingly hopeless circle of an animal existence.” [Source: Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker, December 20, 2010]

“When China’s urbane Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai made his first public appearance in Europe, many were persuaded that China was more than a clone of Soviet totalitarianism, and that “peaceful coexistence” was a real possibility. “Come and see,” Zhou said, and a motley bunch of politicians, artists, and scientists took up his invitation in 1954...The Chinese...laid on extravagant banquets for the British. (The headline in the Daily Mail was ‘SOCIALISTS DINE ON SHARK’s FINS.”) The mammoth Chinese construction of factories, canals, schools, hospitals, and public housing awed these visitors from a straitened country that American loans and the Marshall Plan had saved from financial ruin. They were impressed, too, by the new marriage laws that considerably improved the position of Chinese women, by the ostensible abolition of prostitution, and by the public-health campaigns.”

There were some doubters. “The parade held in Beijing to mark the fifth anniversary of the People’s Republic reminded the philosopher A. J. Ayer of the Nuremberg Rallies,” Mishra wrote in The New Yorker. “Though impressed by the “dedicated and dignified” Mao, the trade unionist Sam Watson was dismayed by Chinese talk of the masses as “another brick, another paving stone.” But “other European visitors to China were relative pushovers. François Mitterrand, who visited China at the height of the devastating famine in 1961, denied the existence of starvation in the country. André Malraux hailed Mao as an “emperor of bronze.” Richard Nixon, who consulted Malraux before “opening up” China to the United States in 1972, and Henry Kissinger were no less awed by Mao’s raw power and historical mystique.” American attitudes to China in the nineteen-seventies were marked by what the Yale historian Jonathan Spence characterized as “reawakened curiosity” and “guileless fascination,” followed soon by “renewed skepticism” as travel and research in China became progressively easier.

In a review of the book “Mao’s Little Red Book: A Global History,” John Gray of the New Statesman wrote: “The predominant western perception of Mao’s regime was of a progressive political project – if at times it got a little out of hand, that was no more than the exuberance that goes naturally with such a liberating enterprise. When in the 1970s I raised with a British communist the millions who were killed in rural purges in the years immediately after Mao came to power, he told me, “Those sorts of numbers are just for western consumption.” Further conversation showed that his estimates of the actual numbers were significantly lower than those conceded by the regime. No doubt unwittingly, he had stumbled on a curious truth: the prestige of the Mao regime in the west was at its height when the leadership was believed to be at its most despotic and murderous. For some of its western admirers, the regime’s violence had a compelling charm in its own right. [Source: John Gray, New Statesman, Cultural Capital Blog, May 24, 2014 \=]

“Julian Bourg recounts how in France Mao’s thoughts became à la mode with the August 1967 release of La Chinoise, Jean-Luc Godard’s film about a youthful Parisian Maoist sect. Among French thinkers, Bourg notes, “Mao’s language of violence had a certain rhetorical appeal.” In fact, it was his combination of rhetorical violence with sub-Hegelian dialectical logic that proved so irresistible to sections of the French intelligentsia. Eulogising Mao’s distinction between principal and secondary contradictions, Louis Althusser deployed Maoist categories as part of an extremely abstract and, indeed, largely meaningless defence of “the relative autonomy of theory”. Althusser’s student Alain Badiou (for many years professor of philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure) continued to defend Maoism long after the scale of its casualties had become undeniable. As recently as 2008, while commending himself for being “now one of Maoism’s few noteworthy representatives”, Badiou praised Mao’s thought as “a new politics of the negation of the negation”.

“In the west, Maoism had two defining characteristics: it bore no relation to conditions in China, in regard to which its proponents remained invincibly ignorant; and it was embraced by sections of an intellectual class that was, for political purposes, almost entirely irrelevant. In Italy, Mao’s thought had for a time a slightly wider influence. As Dominique Kirchner Reill writes, discussing Maoism in Italy and Yugoslavia, “In Italy Mao-mania was not purely a left-wing phenomenon. Some ultra-right groups quoted their Little Red Books to justify their arguments.” In 1968-73 the neo-fascist party Lotto di Popolo (“the people’s fight”) lauded Mao as an exemplary nationalist and resolute opponent of US global hegemony. In a footnote Reill observes that the “Nazi-Maoist movement in Italy included many other figures and groups” besides the Lotto di Popolo. It is a pity this aspect of Mao’s influence is not explored in greater detail. \=\


American journalist Edgar Snow with Mao and Liu Shaoqi

Good Websites and Sources on the Cultural Revolution Virtual Museum of the Cultural Revolution cnd.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Morning Sun morningsun.org ; Red Guards and Cannibals New York Times ;
Great Leap Forward: University of Chicago Chronicle chronicle.uchicago.edu ; Mt. Holyoke China Essay Series mtholyoke.edu ; Wikipedia ; Industrial Planning Video You Tube ; Death Under Mao: Uncounted Millions, Washington Post article paulbogdanor.com ; Death Tolls erols.com ; Communist Party History Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Illustrated History of Communist Party china.org.cn ; Books and Posters Landsberger Communist China Posters ; People’s Republic of China: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; China Essay Series mtholyoke.edu ; Everyday Life in Maoist China.org everydaylifeinmaoistchina.org; Mao Zedong Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Mao Internet Library marx2mao.com ; Paul Noll Mao site paulnoll.com/China/Mao ; Mao Quotations art-bin.com; Marxist.org marxists.org ; New York Times topics.nytimes.com;

Books: "Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62" by Frank Dikotter (Walker & Co, 2010)is an excellent book. "Tombstone" by Yang Jisheng, a Xinhua reporter and Communist party member, is the first proper history of the Great Leap Forward and the famine of 1959 and 1961. "Mao; the Untold Story" by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday (Knopf. 2005). Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans, and her husband John Halliday, a British historian, portrays Mao as villain on the level of Hitler and Stalin. The book was read by U.S. President George Bush and embraced by the American right as a condemnation of Communism. It characterizes Mao as cruel, materialistic, self-centered and a leader who used terror with the aim of ruling the world. Also check out "Mao's New World: Political Culture in the Early People's Republic" by Chang-tai Hung (Cornell University Press, 2011) and "The Private Life of Chairman Mao" by Dr. Li Zhisui (1994).

Edgar Snow and Mao

Most people in the West had never heard of Mao Zedong until he was interviewed by American journalist Edgar Snow. Snow's book Red Star Over China made both men well known. Snow was later kicked out of China and prohibited from entering the country until 1960. In 1970 he was the first journalist to report that Mao wanted to meet Nixon. In 1972, Snow died, attended by doctors sent by Zhou Enlai.

According to the Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Beijing government: “Snow, the first Western journalist to interview Communist Part leaders, arrived in China in 1928, after which he met with Communist leaders including Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province in 1936. He later wrote the well-known Red Star Over China, which became the go-to-work for introducing early Communism in China to the rest of the world.

Snow toured the communist bases around Yan'an, in northern China. The resulting book Red Star Over China (1937) portrayed Mao in a positive light and was widely credited with introducing the communists and their leadership to the rest of the world. Pankaj Mishra wrote in The New Yorker, ‘snow managed to project onto the revolutionary the ideals of American progressivism.” Mao was presented as a “Lincolnesque” leader who aimed to “awaken” China’s millions to “a belief in human rights,” introducing them to “a new conception of the state, society, and the individual.” [Source: Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker, December 20, 2010]

Theodore White and Chiang Kai-shek

The West was also not aware of Kuomintang atrocities until another famous American journalist, Theodore White, reported that Chiang Kai-shek's army warehouses overflowed with grain while people in the Hunan province were starving to death, and eating bark and leaves to survive. Pankaj Mishra wrote in The New Yorker,

“More perceptively, Theodore White, then a reporter for Time, who visited Yanan in 1944, concluded that the Communists were “masters of brutality” but had won peasants over to their side,” Mishra wrote. “Other “China Hands”---an assortment of journalists, American Foreign Service officials, and soldiers who succeeded in meeting the Communists---preferred Mao to Chiang Kai-shek. But, as the Cold War intensified, the China Hands found themselves ignored in the United States.” [Source: Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker, December 20, 2010]

“Following Chiang Kai-shek’s defeat and flight to Taiwan in 1949, the Republican Party angrily accused the Truman Administration of having “lost” China to Communism. Then they berated it for hindering Chiang Kai-shek’s reconquest of the mainland. The China Hands in particular came under sustained fire from early and zealous Cold Warriors for their supposed sympathy with the Chinese agents of Soviet expansionism. Henry Luce, who saw the Christian convert Chiang Kai-shek as a vital facilitator of the “American Century,” fired White from Time.”

“The Korean War, which China entered on the side of North Korea, fixed Mao’s image in the United States as another unappeasable Communist. The Eisenhower Administration now vigorously backed Chiang Kai-shek, signing a mutual-defense treaty with him in 1954, and threatening China with a nuclear strike the following year. The State Department imposed a full trade embargo on China and prohibited travel there.”

Book: Passport to Peking by Patrick Wright (Oxford, 2010)

Western Perceptions of Mao and the Communists Turn Sour


Mao with foreign journalists in 1944

Pankaj Mishra wrote in The New Yorker, “In the seventies and eighties, American scholars and journalists could finally experience the realities they had only guessed at, and they began compiling a grim record of China under Mao---a task that was speeded up by Deng Xiaoping’s repudiation of the Cultural Revolution after Mao’s death, in 1976. More Chinese also began to travel outside their country. Some, safely settled in the West, published memoirs of the Cultural Revolution. This fast-growing genre, which flourished particularly after the brutal suppression of the protests in Tiananmen Square, in June, 1989, described the violence and chaos suffered by ordinary Chinese during Mao’s quest for ideological and moral renewal. One émigré Chinese writer, who had previously been Mao’s private doctor, published the first intimate account of the Chinese leader, “The Private Life of Chairman Mao” (1994). It depicted a luxury-loving narcissist who was at once autocratic, whimsical, and calculating.”[Source: Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker, December 20, 2010]

“Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s best-selling biography Mao: The Unknown Story (2005) went much further, describing a man who was unstintingly vile from early youth to old age. Far from Edgar Snow’s champion of human rights, this particular Mao was working toward “a completely arid society, devoid of civilization, deprived of representation of human feelings, inhabited by a herd with no sensibility.” In Chang and Halliday’s account, Mao killed more than seventy million people in peacetime, and was in some ways a more diabolical villain than even Hitler or Stalin. The authors claimed---among other comparisons they made to twentieth-century atrocities---that the victims of the famine caused by the Great Leap Forward (1958-62) were worse off than the slave laborers at Auschwitz.”

Stanley Rittenberg: From Playing Gin-Rummy with Mao to Advising Bill Gates

Sidney Rittenberg (1921-2019) is another famous Westerner associated with Mao. Born in South Carolina, he lived in China for over three decades, shared rice gruel in a cave with Mao, and taught him about American life. He was the first American to join the Chinese Communist Party, serving as Communist Party functionary and as an advisor to the Gang of Four during the Cultural Revolution, but he also spent almost half his time in China in Chinese jails. After he returned to the United States in the 1970s he became one of the leading — and best paid —China experts in the West. Among those who have sought his advise, counsel and help were Bill Gates, executives with Intel and Levi Strauss.

Robert D. McFadden wrote in the New York Times: “In a saga of Kafkaesque twists, Mr. Rittenberg was a dedicated aide to Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai as a party propagandist known across China by his Mandarin name, Li Dunbai — the mysterious foreigner in Mao’s government. But he ran afoul of Mao’s suspicions, offended Mao’s wife and spent 16 years in prison, falsely accused of espionage and counterrevolutionary plotting. [Source: Robert D. McFadden New York Times, August 24, 2019]

A documentary —“the Revolutionary” — released in 2012, Mark McDonald of the New York Times wrote, “describes how a kid from Charleston, South Carolina, ended up in a mountain cave playing gin rummy with Mao Zedong” and later held up through two long stints in Communist prisons, enduring long stretches in solitary, ‘sitting there with your own potential madness sitting across from you, watching you, knowing it’s either you or him.”[Source: Mark McDonald, IHT Rendezvous Blog, New York Times, July 10, 2012]

“In all, Mr. Rittenberg spent 34 years in China, from the Communists’ victory in the revolution through the horrors of the Great Leap Forward, the ensuing famine and the Cultural Revolution. In various interviews over the years he has seemed sad, wistful, angry and ashamed of the excesses and damage of those years. In the preface to his autobiography, he said that he, like others, had “walked the Communist Road in the hope of creating a new and better world.” “But at the same time I want to paint a clear picture of the evils that ensued.” he wrote. “I saw them. I lived with them. In some cases---to my shame and chagrin today---I participated in them.”

“The Revolutionary” (2012) was made by Irv Drasnin, Don Sellers and Lucy Ostrander, and his memoir, “The Man Who Stayed Behind” (1993) was written with Amanda Bennett, a former correspondent in China for The Wall Street Journal. “I had been right to help those who were working for a new China,” he said in the memoir. “I had been dead wrong, however, in accepting the party as the embodiment of truth and in giving to the party uncritical and unquestioning loyalty.” He is survived by his wife and children, Xiaoqin (Jenny), Xiaodong (Toni), Xiaoxiang (Sunny) and Xiaoming (Sidney Jr.), and four grandchildren.

Rittenberg’s Early Life


Sidney Rittenberg in 2014

Rittenberg came from a prominent Charleston, South Carolina family, He studied Chinese at Stanford and was fluent in the language. He joined and quit the American Communist Party and arrived in China as an Army private just as World War II ended. Robert D. McFadden wrote in the New York Times: “Sidney Rittenberg was born in Charleston, S.C., on August 14, 1921. His father, Sidney, was president of the Charleston City Council and his grandfather had been a prominent South Carolina legislator. His mother was the daughter of a Russian immigrant. After graduating from the Porter Military Academy in Charleston in 1937, he turned down a scholarship to Princeton to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in philosophy and graduated in 1941. [Source: Robert D. McFadden New York Times, August 24, 2019]

“He joined the American Communist Party in 1940, drawn by its platform of free speech, racial equality and roots in the labor movement. Without giving up his Communist ideals, he acceded to a party request and resigned in 1942 when he was drafted by the Army in World War II. “Recognizing his talent for languages — he had learned French and Latin in prep school and excelled in German at Chapel Hill — the Army sent him to its language school at Stanford University. He was fluent in Chinese by 1945, when he arrived in Kunming, China, as a linguist for the Judge Advocate General. Discharged in 1946, he joined a United Nations relief agency in Shanghai, where he met Communists who urged him to join their movement. His trek to Yan’an, and his long association with Mao, ensued.

Rittenberg’s Early Years in China

When Rittenberg arrived in China as an Army private. He was fluent in Chinese and committed to Marxist-Leninist ideals, ready to fight against the rampant corruption in Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government and ready to be a part of history. “McDonald wrote on the IHT Rendezvous Blog: “Rittenberg took an interesting career path, to say the least. Arriving in China as a language expert for the U.S. military just as World War II was ending, he stayed behind after the war to join the Communist revolution. A Chinese state television account says Mr. Rittenberg had a come-to-Communism moment when he was still in the military. He was outraged when he heard that a rickshaw puller had received just $14 in compensation from the Chinese Nationalist government when his child was killed by a drunk driver, an American surgeon. In a recent TedX video interview, Mr. Rittenberg said he felt he was “fulfilling an historical need” and was excited by the chance to have “my finger on the pulse of history.”[Source: Mark McDonald, IHT Rendezvous Blog, New York Times, July 10, 2012]

“Known in China as Li Dunbai — the phonetic expression of Rittenberg---he trekked to the Communist guerrillas” mountain sanctuary of Yanan in 1946. He met Mao the day he arrived, he said, and came to know him and the inner circle of senior Communist leaders who were hunkered down there. At night they played gin rummy, horsed around and watched Laurel and Hardy films. The leaders used him to polish and edit their messages into perfect English. He later translated some of Mao’s writings---the Chairman even autographed his Little Red Book---and he worked for the New China News Agency and Radio Peking. ^^

“Mr. Rittenberg has always acknowledged that he was smitten with the Communist party, especially in its relief efforts with the poor. “It was clean as a whistle.” he said in a Guardian interview, noting that the leaders in the early days lived simply and ate frugally.In 1956 Mr. Rittenberg married a Chinese woman, Wang Yulin, after professing his feelings---against the advice of friends---in a love letter. Still married, now living in Fox Island, Washington, they have three daughters and a son. ^^

Robert D. McFadden wrote in the New York Times: “For most of his time in China, from 1945 to 1980, he was an intimate of the Communist Party’s top leaders. He argued dogma with Mao, talked for days about the United States and philosophy with Zhou, danced with Mao’s wife Jiang Qing, and got to know Mao’s inner circle, including Liu Shaoqi, the third-ranking leader. They all watched Laurel and Hardy movies together. [Source: Robert D. McFadden New York Times, August 24, 2019]

“Mr. Rittenberg joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1946. He became an English-language translator of news dispatches for the party’s propaganda arm and an interpreter of Chinese for communiqués and contacts with international leaders. He traveled with Mao and the Red Army and witnessed events of the civil war that led to the Communist victory in 1949, and to the formation of Mao’s Beijing government, the People’s Republic of China. “Despite his growing status, Mr. Rittenberg was incarcerated twice on trumped-up charges. After the Communists took power in China, the Soviet leader Josef Stalin charged in a communiqué to Mao that Mr. Rittenberg was a secret American agent sent to undermine the revolution. Without trial, he was held for six years in solitary confinement.

“Cleared of the bogus spy charges and released in 1955, he resumed his status in privileged upper echelons of the party. He was named to a high post in China’s Broadcast Administration, and later became a director of Radio Beijing, which regularly denounced the United States. He also wrote for the controlled New China News Agency, and was a liaison to foreign journalists and dignitaries. He sometimes broadcast propaganda himself, anonymously in English with a soft South Carolina drawl. He was well paid and lived with his third wife, Wang Yulin, and their three daughters and son in a Beijing suite luxurious even by Western standards, filled with priceless Ming dynasty antiques. (He had previously been married to an American who divorced him when he left for China, and to Wei Lin, a Chinese state radio announcer who, as a gesture of solidarity with the party, divorced him after he was accused of espionage.)

Rittenberg During the Cultural Revolution

Robert D. McFadden wrote in the New York Times: “Mr. Rittenberg was an avid propagandist during Mao’s Great Leap Forward, a campaign from 1958 to 1961 to transform China from an agrarian economy to a collectivized, industrialized society. The campaign, which banned private farming and enforced edicts with indoctrination and forced labor, was a disaster, causing widespread famine and tens of millions of deaths. [Source: Robert D. McFadden New York Times, August 24, 2019]

“He was even more directly involved in the early stages of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, a decade-long purge of “bourgeois” intellectuals, party officials and others suspected of anti-Maoist thought. Starting in 1966, thousands of young Red Guards persecuted millions with imprisonment, torture, public humiliation and property seizures in struggles to create a Maoist cult of personality.

“Mr. Rittenberg joined the Red Guards in denouncing what they called “establishment” bureaucrats and haranguing the masses. His speeches and news conferences were published in the Red Guard newspapers. One famous picture from the era shows Mao autographing Mr. Rittenberg’s copy of his “Little Red Book” of sayings. Another shows Mr. Rittenberg on a speaker’s platform, holding the book up and exhorting crowds in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to defend Mao’s thoughts.

“Soon after the pictures were taken, Mr. Rittenberg was himself denounced by Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, ostensibly for attending a secret meeting to plot the government’s overthrow. In 1968, he was imprisoned, again without a hearing, this time for a decade in solitary confinement in a dark cell 7 paces long and 3½ paces wide. His wife was sent to a labor camp, his children to live with relatives.

“During Mr. Rittenberg’s second imprisonment, the Cultural Revolution left the country in chaos, Mao’s health began to fail and the so-called Gang of Four — Mao’s wife and three other leaders — assumed greater power. China’s Communist Party became what Mr. Rittenberg called a “shadow” of its old self. “The spirit was gone, the party became a mere machine for exercising power over the government and the people,” Mr. Rittenberg told The Financial Times in 2012. “Official corruption and careerism, rare before the Cultural Revolution, now become prevalent and systemic.”

Rittenberg Returns to the U.S. After the Cultural Revolution

Robert D. McFadden wrote in the New York Times: “Released in 1977 after Mao died and Jiang Qing was arrested, Mr. Rittenberg emerged from prison disillusioned with Communism. He returned to the United States in 1979 for a three-month visit that he portrayed as a “vacation,” to see relatives, to lecture and, apparently, to quietly discuss his repatriation with the Carter administration. He returned to China, his status undiminished, and was named to an important academic post. [Source: Robert D. McFadden New York Times, August 24, 2019]

“But he quickly left China again for what he said would be a five-month visit to America. His wife went with him, and it turned out to be a permanent move, with the children joining them later and assuming American names and citizenship. He had kept his own American citizenship, and he soon settled into a new life. His return was widely publicized. He went on television and radio talk shows, lectured and was featured in newspapers and magazines. His welcome by American officials raised suspicions that he had been a C.I.A. agent all along, but he scoffed at the idea, and no proof was ever offered. He was still welcome in China, however, and he and his wife for several years made a living conducting tours of China for Americans.

“Then, in a breakthrough, the chairman of ComputerLand hired Mr. Rittenberg to help him establish ties to a visiting high-level delegation of Chinese business leaders, and to provide guidance for marketing American products and services in China. He knew many Chinese business and government leaders, and understood the bureaucracy well enough to advise clients about traps and shortcuts.

Rittenberg: the Corporate Liason to China

Rittenberg become a much sought-after consultant for firms looking to do business in China. His clients included Nextel and Microsoft. “We can see just about anybody we need to see in China because people are curious to meet me.” Mr. Rittenberg said of his continuing access to Chinese business and political leaders. John Zagula, a Washington venture capitalist who hired Rittenberg said: “If he bears scars from his time in prisonthose are scars that he somehow has turned to be positive for him. He’s vital. He’s engaged...He’s totally with it. He knows what’s going on in the world.”[Source: Mark McDonald, IHT Rendezvous Blog, New York Times, July 10, 2012]

Robert D. McFadden wrote in the New York Times: “He used his extensive knowledge and contacts in China to build his own capitalist empire, advising corporate leaders, including Bill Gates of Microsoft and the computer magnate Michael S. Dell, on how to cash in on China’s vast growing economy. Still welcome in China, he took entrepreneurs on guided tours, introducing them to the country’s movers and shakers. “His compelling tale can perhaps best be understood as a story, writ small, of modern-day China itself,” the author Gary Rivlin wrote in The New York Times in 2004. “His metamorphosis from isolated expatriate to high-priced global go-between mirrors the country’s own shift — from a closed-door Communist state to a freewheeling moneymaking society, with a new class of entrepreneurs who dream the same dreams that dance in the heads of people in places like Silicon Valley.”

“He founded Rittenberg & Associates, a consulting firm for American companies doing business in China. He joined the Chinese studies faculty at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., and wrote about China’s markets for the Strategic News Service, a weekly business digest. Mr. Gates and Mr. Dell were readers. Over the years, his services were engaged by hundreds of venture capitalists and American companies, including Microsoft, Intel, Prudential Insurance, Polaroid and Levi Strauss. He made a half-dozen business trips to China annually, and kept an apartment in Beijing. “He may have been a card-carrying Communist, but he’s also very much a capitalist,” David Shrigley, a former Intel executive, told The Times in 2004. He said Mr. Rittenberg helped Intel open a semiconductor plant in China in the 1990s. “He understands what’s really going on in a very nuanced way that proved tremendously valuable to us.”

“A modernizing China wanted the business, and officials commended Americans for hiring what they called friends of the People’s Republic as advisers. And it was a windfall for the Rittenbergs, who bought a home on Fox Island, Wash., overlooking Puget Sound, a condo in Bellevue, Wash., and a home in Scottsdale, Ariz. Mike Wallace of CBS and the Rev. Billy Graham were among their friends.

Rittenberg on China and Prison

A BBC interviewer asked Rittenberg in 2011 whether a Communist Party exists today.”Not by any definition I know of.” he replied. “Today you don’t find much morality.” In 2013, he told The Financial Times he regretted his support for Mao, calling him “a great historic leader and a great historic criminal,” and expressing dismay over his own role in the Cultural Revolution. “I took part in victimizing innocent, good people,” he said. “It was institutionalized bullying and scapegoating, and I couldn’t see it because everything about the regime was good for me and I felt I was part of a movement for human progress, freedom and happiness. I wasn’t feeling what happened to other people. It’s a kind of corruption, exactly the kind of corruption that ruins the whole thing.”

“In the documentary “The Revolutionary,” Rittenberg said that a revolution “is not like inviting guests to dinner. It can’t be that civilized, that gracious, that courteous, that gentle.” And so it went---not gently---for Mr. Rittenberg personally. His first prison stint came when Joseph Stalin asked Mao to arrest him as an agent of U.S. imperialism who had been sent to sabotage the Chinese revolution. [Source: Mark McDonald, IHT Rendezvous Blog, New York Times, July 10, 2012]

On prison, Rittenberg said:“I hate to be a whiner, but it was too long.” he said is jailers drugged him to keep him edgy, awake, sleep-deprived. “You’re supposed to break down and confess.” he said. “I broke down, but I had nothing to confess. So it’s kind of awkward.” His second prison term came at the behest of Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing. “A fantastic woman.” he said of Madame Mao in one interview, whereupon his wife interjected, “A horrible woman.”

Image Sources: Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/ and Noll websites http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html ; YouTube

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2021


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