By anyone’s standards, Sidney Rittenberg has led an interesting life.
If you go
WHAT: Screening of “The Revolutionary” with Sidney Rittenberg in attendanceWHEN: 7 p.m. MondayWHERE: Stern Center Ballroom, College of CharlestonCOST: FreeMORE INFO: revolutionary movie.com
He comes from prominent Charleston stock, born in 1921 of the same Jewish family that produced, two generations earlier, Sam Rittenberg, the well-known South Carolina legislator with a boulevard named for him in town.
Sidney Rittenberg grew up here, then went off to study philosophy at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where he joined the U.S. Communist Party and became a labor organizer. Soon, he was in the Army, trained as a linguist, and made his way to the Far East.
In China, he found a purpose. Offering his services to the country’s Communist leaders, he was engaged as an interpreter who eventually headed the Broadcast Administration. But he got to that position in fits and starts, with two prison terms disrupting his progress.
In 1949, he was jailed for six years in solitary confinement, charged by Stalin with being a spy. Upon Stalin’s death, Rittenberg went back to work, married and started a family.
He was a supporter of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution and worked closely with the leader, as well as with other important Chinese officials, and he gained significant political clout. In 1968, he again was accused of being a spy and imprisoned, this time for nine years. He spent a total of 16 years in Chinese jails.
In 1980, he returned to the U.S., settling in Washington state and starting with his wife, Wang Yulin, a consulting business to help American multinational corporations tap the Chinese market.
Rittenberg published his memoirs, “The Man Who Stayed Behind,” in 1993. A documentary feature film about his life, “The Revolutionary,” was made in 2012. That movie will be screened in Charleston at 7 p.m. Monday, in the Stern Center Ballroom on the campus of the College of Charleston. Rittenberg will be in attendance.