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The Man Who Stayed Behind

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  191 ratings  ·  30 reviews
The Man Who Stayed Behind is the remarkable account of Sidney Rittenberg, an American who was sent to China by the U.S. military in the 1940s. A student activist and labor organizer who was fluent in Chinese, Rittenberg became caught up in the turbulence that engulfed China and remained there until the late 1970s. Even with access to China’s highest leaders as an American ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published April 3rd 2001 by Duke University Press Books (first published April 1st 1993)
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Lewis Weinstein
Dec 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Only 50% thru but so far this is an utterly compelling memoir told like a novel ... UPDATE ... it only got better ... the descriptions of life in China during the years 1945 to 1980, 16 of which Rittenberg spent in solitary confinement, are honestly portrayed by a person who was trying to make sense of them. A communist in America before WWII, and a devoted follower of Mao in China for decades, Rittenberg finally concluded that the root of the problem was the communist doctrine itself and the pe ...more
Feb 15, 2009 rated it it was ok
I am now at page 208. I am probably not going to finish it. Although it is interesting and well-written (ghostwriter from Wall Street Journal is very good), it is frustrating.

During WW II, Sidney Rittenberg, an American Communist and labor organizer in his 20s, learns Chinese, joins the Army, and ends up in China in 1945, just as the civil war between the Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government and Mao Zedong's Communists is heating up. What Rittenberg sees of the former is feudal callousness,
Mabon Finch
May 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
What an incredible book. Rittenberg’s story is truly one for the history books. He provides a firsthand account of China from WW2 until 1980, where he led a life that saw fame and power with the Communists on one side and pain and jail time on the other.
Jul 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
This autobiography is not your usual expat in China story. Sidney Rittenberg stayed on in China after his assignment with the US army at the end of WW2 was done, first joining a U.N. mission and then joining the Communists in Yan'an, becoming the first American to ever become a Chinese Communist Party member. Rittenberg climbs to an influential position at China International Radio responsible for translating and delivering Mao Zedong Thought and propagating China’s view on communism to the worl ...more
Jan 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a great inside look at the Chinese Revolution--from before the Communists won until Mao's death. Sidney Rittenberg was one of the tiny handful of foreigners that were allowed to live and work in China after 1949. He was also the first American to join the Chinese Communist party. He participated in the many campaigns like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution and he knew Mao, Zhou Enlai, and other top government officials personally. He was jailed twice, once for six years a ...more
Jun 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Knowing Sidney probably biases my rating. The writing is a bit dry and overly detailed at times, but his story is utterly amazing. A naive young military recruit who excelled in foreign languages finds his way to the center of China's cultural revolution and in an odd twist of fate becomes Mao's right hand man, spends more than two decades in a Chinese prison and makes it home to the US. ...more
Jun 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I could not put it down. The author is a neighbor of mine on Fox Island, WA. You not only learn about him during 35 years in China, but also the vast changes in Chinese politics and culture every time he gets out of prison. The former Communist is now a consummate Capitalist, taking Bill Gates and others who want to do business in China, there to meet the leaders he grew up with. Fascinating!
Feb 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read this book on recommendation of my brother who had read it and traveled in China. I wanted to confirm what I'd read and learned in reading Rivertown by a Peace Corps volunteer. This author spent 35 years in China and really got involved in the Communist era. Well worth the read! ...more
Xujun Eberlein
Feb 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Anyone who has made seeking truth his or her quest should read this book. With a painful honesty, Rittenberg accounts a sincere believer's failed efforts in pursuing idealism. (Read more of my comments on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/review/R3TF19SO...) ...more
Jun 12, 2011 rated it liked it
Sidney Rittenberg was an American Communist from South Carolina who learned Chinese as a World War II draftee and ended up living there through the 1970s. This memoir shows both his idealism about Chinese Communism and the terrible price he paid for it. His was a history I was totally unaware of.
Roger Humbke
Oct 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who is interested in the reality of Chairman Mao's China
Recommended to Roger by: Corrina Turner - Teacher
An absolutely riviting autobiography that any Caucasion that believes he understand Chinese culture should read. It scared me to death and made me think of moving on!
Jan 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Clearly written portrayal of an American who hoped that Chinese Communism would make the world a better place. I appreciate any book that offers another perspective on politics and capitalism.
Jul 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A great biography that give I site into the Chinese Civil War and the beginnings of the CCP.
Jun 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the autobiography of Sidney Rittenberg, an extremely idealistic man, who was sent to China by the US Army. He believed that Chinese communism would create a better world, joined the Party and knew Mao Zedong and Chou Enlai during China's revolution.

He worked as a translator and was much honored by the Chinese...until he wasn't...twice spending mullti-year periods in their prisons, and then being told with apologies that they'd made a mistake. Even in prison, he never lost faith in commu
Aug 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: china

Rittenberg's story is mind-boggling. I found his book especially useful for illuminating just how desperate things were for the majority of Chinese citizens before the Communists took over. It helps to make sense of the tragedy that follows (the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution) which Rittenberg all details as an eye-witness to the Revolution and member of the Communist Party. He is twice imprisoned and eventually becomes disenchanted with the Party, alt
First, the good stuff. This is an impressively unique insider look at a time in Chinese history I know very little about. The beginning and end of the book were especially enjoyable.

Now, the bad stuff. This book inhabited an odd place between academic text and memoir. The academic side made it a mostly dry read; the memoir side narrowed the focus and left me desiring more context.

This is such an interesting story and I am glad I read it, but the journey was not easy.
Aug 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating book. I still don't understand how it could take someone 2 prison terms in isolation to understand the evil behind communism. Glad he wrote this book because I know so many people who idealize and romanticize this ideology. Must read for those who do not know history of the communist way of life. Great for high- schoolers. ...more
Stephen Rowland
Apr 23, 2018 rated it liked it
A fascinating book for anyone interested in communist China, but also an infuriating one. Rittenberg's complete lack of critical thinking skills pushed me toward a myocardial infarction many times and his constant boasting and self-importance is rather annoying, but he finally sees the light. All it takes is 15 years in solitary confinement. ...more
Philip Campbell
Jun 09, 2021 rated it did not like it
According to official records Mr Rittenberg never went to Yan’an. No journalists that did go make no mention of him.He makes no mention of the Dixie Mission,or any of the visits by American politicians.
With this in mind I cannot believe any part of his story.
Solomon Alder Lawrence Rossinger and Frank Coe who he does mention,were found to be communist spies during the Venona/I.P.R enquiries.
Jun 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: physical-copy
This one took awhile for me to get through. The author certainly has had an extraordinary experience and there were parts of the book, like his experience during the Cultural Revolution, that really held my attention. However, other sections of the story were just kind of slow and hard to get through.
Tony Taylor
Jan 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
I met Sidney Rittenberg in Seattle in 2004; very interesting man. He lives on Fox Island, WA

The Man Who Stayed Behind is the remarkable account of Sidney Rittenberg, an American who was sent to China by the U.S. military in the 1940s. A student activist and labor organizer who was fluent in Chinese, Rittenberg became caught up in the turbulence that engulfed China and remained there until the late 1970s. Even with access to China’s highest leaders as an American communist, however, he was twice
Mar 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
The Man Who Stayed Behind is the story of an American soldier that stayed in China after World War II and became a part of Mao Zedong's communist regime. During this time Sidney Rittenberg went from a high level member of the communist party to a purged dissident and back to an accepted member of the communist party.

Sidney Rittenberg has a uniquely western and inside perspective on the post World War II history of China that should be educational to anyone interested in Chinese history.
Apr 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have met Rittenberg in person and I asked him what had gotten him through the 16 years in isolation in China, and he said to me,"The belief in truth". This man has an amazing way of making light of any situation. I am looking to buy this book, although I know it was published in the 60's and it will be difficult to find a copy. ...more
May 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
The memoir of a true believer, an American who joined the Chinese Communists and attained a fairly high position in the government. Eventually, like most people who shared a cave with Mao in the good old days of revolutionary struggle, he ended up in prison during the Cultural Revolution. Facinating life.
Sep 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Interesting, but with no background in Chinese history, skimming a few wikipedia articles first would have been useful.
Nov 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
incredible life and unbelievable times. Details on certain personalities are highly interesting.
Philip B.
May 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Incredible story of an idealistic naif on the Long March. Excellent counter point to the 10 lb Mao book.
May 31, 2009 marked it as to-read
I met the Mr Rittenberg on a flight from San Diego and what an interesting gentleman, I'm looking forward to reading this book. ...more
Jul 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bbc
Simply fantastic.
Sheila Barnes
rated it it was amazing
Nov 16, 2019
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Sidney Rittenberg was an American journalist, scholar, and Chinese linguist who lived in China from 1944 to 1980. He worked closely with Mao Zedong, Zhu De, Zhou Enlai, and other leaders of the Chinese Communist Party.

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