As an ethnic Chinese grown up in China and having lived in Europe and the US for 17 years, I find this book very readable and highly educational. I immensely admire the courage and candidness of Mr. Sidney Rittenberg in presenting his complete life experience in China, particularly those embarrassing experiences. It is exceptionally rare that an autobiography author does not elevate one's wisdom, ability, and strength, glorify one's success or accomplishments, forget one's own weakness and short-comes, and blame others for failures.
The 35 year life experience of Mr. Rittenberg in China is a dramatic odyssey and a unique story, which could only be found in a masterpiece novel. He went to China as a US army soldier equipped with Chinese language capability at the end of World War II, stayed as a UN aid worker, and then worked as an English language expert for Chinese Communist propaganda organs at the proximity of the power center. He witnessed and experienced how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) relentlessly purged itself to preserve its core strength and how the CCP leadership changed from grass-root to self-isolation. Although he worked very hard and tried everything to win the trust and acceptance of the CCP and was a member of the Party, ironically he was groundlessly accused of spying for the US and imprisoned twice for 16 years in total. He married two Chinese women. The first one divorced him during his first imprisonment, but the second waited for him for more than 9 years when he was in jail for the second time. His tour of duty ended with bringing his family to the States shortly after all the false accusation on him was cleared up.
This book can be read from several aspects or levels. One can enjoy it as a novel with a moving and amazing story. This is also a documentary of personal witness of Chinese revolution, Cultural Revolution, and astonishing changes in many aspects of China occurred during these 35 years. It clearly describes one's struggle in living in and getting accepted by an alien culture. Furthermore and furthermost, it is a highly educational book on valuable life lessons. Among many valuable life lessons, the following are just a few of such examples:
1. We are all educated that there never are too many friends in anyone's life; however, Mr. Rittenberg's first imprisonment tells us good friends may bring us troubles as well. This is such a common experience for many people, yet it is hardly acknowledged anywhere.
2. His second imprisonment could well be avoided if he shined away from many luminescent foci. He was not cunning enough to play the games. But how many of us know where we really belong to, until too late.
3. It is pity that the book did not elaborate the advice of his boss and friend, Mei Yi, to him never to accept a chief executive officer position. Although having literally taken this most valuable advice that he got in China and recorded in this book, Mr. Rittenberg might not truly comprehended the full implication of this advice. He never was one ordinary member of his comrades' club.
4. He lived a roller coaster life in China, and always in two extremes: either highly privileged and beloved, or dismissed and untrusted. He dined at a small canteen, befriended with many high rank cadres, and had access to inner circle information prior to his first imprisonment, and had a salary at least ten times higher than his colleagues and even higher than Chairman Mao (!!!), and lived in an apartment compound exclusively for foreign experts before his second imprisonment. Such privilege would undoubtedly build an impassable barrier preventing his colleagues from sharing and communicating opinions and thoughts with him at equal footing. If he was consciously aware of such a barrier, his life experience in China might be very different.
5. We all know the fact that anyone's life can make a sudden turn by some unexpected events or unknown people. Mr. Rittenberg's experience in China exemplified this belief.
After finishing reading the book, I could not stop thinking about the story. This book has left the readers with many issues to ponder, such as:
1. If his first Chinese wife did not divorce him while he was in prison, what will be the situation after his release and finding that she was no longer the same woman he loved and married to?
2. If he had no option to move back to the US with his family after his release from second imprisonment, how would he struggle to go back to work in the Broadcast Administration?
3. He had many high rank and influential friends. How had those friends tried to help him and his family when he was in prison?
4. As a privileged alien totally devoted to the CCP, he had to struggle so hard to get accepted by the Party. If he did not have all the privilege, what would be his life experience in China?
As a Chinese, I feel terribly sorry for all the pain and suffers that Mr. Rittenberg was imposed. It is often and common to see people, who had been mistreated by others and become the biggest victim of him- or herself, developed overwhelming bitterness and irrational prejudice. It was yet another amazing character of Mr. Rittenberg. After having had such experiences in China, he did not have any bitterness against China and/or Chinese people, and he did not blame anyone for his personal suffering (16 years in solitary confinement). At the end of the book, it becomes crystal clear that in spite of all the weakness he might have had, Mr. Rittenberg is a man of true integrity with a big heart, strength, courage, and honesty. Honesty is so precious; people practice it rarely. "The Man Who Stayed Behind" is a rare and valuable exception.