Did you know that during the Chinese Cultural Revolution a Jewish man headed the Chinese Broadcast Administration? The new documentary The Revolutionary (trailer here) explores the fascinating life of Sidney Rittenberg, who went from Southern Jewish gentleman to Cultural Revolutionary to prisoner, and back again.
Rittenberg grew up in a prominent South Carolina Jewish family, and spent his student years as a labor and civil rights activist. When World War II broke out, he was drafted, sent to Stanford to learn Chinese, and then shipped off to China. Afterward, Rittenberg stayed in the Far East, where he joined the Communist Party and mingled with legendary figures like Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedung.
Rittenberg’s fortunes took their first turn when Stalin accused him of espionage. He was sentenced to solitary confinement, and was released only upon the Soviet Premiere’s death six years later. He quickly made up for lost time, becoming a leading proponent of the Cultural Revolution, and leading the Chinese Broadcast Administration, a position of power never before—or since—held by a foreigner. But everything came crashing down when he ran afoul of Jiang Qing, Mao Zedung’s wife and one of the Gang of Four. He was thrown back into solitary for another 10 years.
Now 91 and back in the U.S., Rittenberg and his Chinese wife run a consulting firm for companies looking to expand to the Chinese market. Needless to say, he’s no longer a communist.