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The Man Who Stayed Behind [Paperback]

Amanda Bennett , Sidney Rittenberg
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

1 July 2001
"The Man Who Stayed Behind" is the remarkable story of Sidney Rittenberg, an American student activist and labour organiser who joined the military, became fluent in Chinese, was sent to China by the U.S. military in the 1940s, became caught up in the turbulence that engulfed that country, and remained there until the late 1970s. Here he tells how he argued dogma with Mao Zedong, mused philosophy with Zhou Enlai, and danced with Mao's wife, Jiang Qing. But he also gives a harrowing account of his struggle over madness and despair in prison during six years in solitary confinement on trumped-up spy charges. A decade later he was sent back to be confined alongside other political prisoners who fell afoul of the dominant faction during the Cultural Revolution. There is also the touching love story of Rittenberg's Chinese wife, Yulin, who pledged to wait for ten years for the man she loved. Both a memoir and a documentary history of the Chinese revolution from 1949 through the Cultural Revolution, "The Man Who Stayed Behind" provides a human perspective on China's efforts to build a new society. Critical of both his own mistakes and those of the Communist leadership, Rittenberg offers both a compelling personal story and a poignant and thought-provoking exploration of some of the most profound political and moral issues of the twentieth century.

Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press (1 July 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822326671
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822326670
  • Product Dimensions: 3.5 x 15.4 x 23 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 347,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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From reviews of the cloth edition: "[The Man Who Stayed Behind] reads like a riveting historical novel. But there's no fiction here ... it's Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, the Long March, solitary confinement, despair, romance, and redemption. Sidney Rittenberg's story is a classic."- Mike Wallace, CBS-TV 60 Minutes "I found The Man Who Stayed Behind hard to put down. No American has ever merged as fully, hopefully-and disastrously-with Communist China as Rittenberg did for four decades from the 1940s. The book is lively, poignant, and revealing. Rittenberg offers a window on Beijing politics that anyone seriously interested in China's recent past and likely future should read."- Ross Terrill, author of China in Our Time "Rittenberg has written a modern day Pilgrim's Progress, in which he wanders through thirty-five years of Chinese power struggles with his idealism-or perhaps naivete-astoundingly intact."- Russell Watson, Newsweek "Sidney Rittenberg has had one of the most remarkable lives of anyone I have ever met. The story of his life is not only a fascinating and valuable witness to one of the greatest historical upheavals of [the twentieth] century, but is a vivid testimony to the power of good in the midst of evil."-Billy Graham "An extraordinary and revealing account of how someone was swept into the Chinese Communist movement and stayed with it through its many blunders, excesses, and cruelties... A fascinating autobiography-honest, moving, chilling, and quite illuminating."- Dr. Michel Oksenberg, Former National Security Council Aid on China Policy "For more than a decade, I have been recording Chinese stories of hope, imprisonment, and disillusion. Nowhere is that story told more poignantly, honestly, or compellingly than in this book... [It] is fascinating, excruciatingly honest, painful to read, and destined to be a classic in the literature of gods that have failed."- Anne F. Thurston, the Boston Globe "The gripping saga of an expatriate whose extraordinary experiences left him without illusions about Marxism-but with his personal ideals triumphantly intact."- Kirkus Reviews "Rittenberg lived a strange life, but he is not a stranger. Seen from the inside, his 'life of perks, privilege, and deluded complicity' makes sense. In the ultimate test of good autobiography, we see with a shock how it could have been us."- Andrew J. Nathan, the Washington Post "In a class by itself ... This story is off the wall, amazing, unbelievably funny and sad... What I want to know is: Where are the miniseries people?"- Carolyn See, the Los Angeles Times "The Man Who Stayed Behind hooked me from start to finish. These are rare, tragic, sometimes startling insights into Mao's China at its self-destructive worst. Whether you sympathize with Sidney Rittenberg or not (and there will be times when you have doubts) he was there as history was made and unmade, and became part of its scar tissue. His prison portrait of Madame Mao as the shrieking harridan of the Red Terror will stay with me a long time. And his own personal story is an amazing tale in its own right."- Sterling Seagrave, author of The Soong Dynasty " There is nothing like an eyewitness account to heat up historical events... A fascinating, fast-paced read... the personal story-about one man's failure to build a better world, about a stranger's futile efforts to be accepted by a distrustful culture, about dreams proved false and nightmares come true-is rivetting."- Nick Gallo, Seattle Weekly "A gripping story about an idealistic young American who freely cast his lot with the Chinese revolution only to be struck down by that revolution at the floodtide of its success... One lives with him through inhuman cruelty and the mindless horror of sixteen years of solitary confinement."- Leonard Woodcock, First American Ambassador to China

About the Author

Sidney Rittenberg is President of Rittenberg Associates, Incorporated--a China consulting firm. He resides on Fox Island, Washington, with his wife, Yulin.

Amanda Bennett is Managing Editor of "The Oregonian" in Portland, Oregon and former Bureau Chief of the "Wall Street Journal "in Atlanta.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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The Man Who Stayed Behind is a romance that unfolds at several levels. Read the first page
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4.0 out of 5 stars What are you waiting to make a film out of it? 7 Sep 2011
Mr Rittenberg has had an incredible life.

The choices he made out of pure conviction gave him the opportunity to mingle with historical figures, be a witness to historical events and great changes... and a couple of times in jail (16 years in all).

What stands out in this autobiography is that Rittenberg doesn't explain the events with hindsight, but you discover his emotions and experiences as he goes along. Only at the end of the book does he give a short impression of how he now sees things and how they have changed him.
I thought it was a very honest approach to the book.

For anybody going to China, this book and `Wild Swans' do give a good idea on the country, its society and its modern history. However, please note that things have changed quite a bit. But it may help you understand quite a bit too.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  31 reviews
44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A man of true integrity 5 April 2004
By Tu, Yang - Published on
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.
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Hero by Failure 3 Aug 2005
By Xujun Eberlein - Published on
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. He does not shun away from the truth that idealism and stupidity were often twins in human history. In fact, "faith" can make one blind and an involuntarily contributor to harm. It took the author a lifetime - including 16 years in the prisons of the system he believed in - to realize this simple truth. An ordinary person might have woken up a lot earlier, but not a believer. Is this faith or stupidity? The reader should draw his or her own conclusion. Nonetheless, what I really want to say is: although his effort in pursing ideals has failed, his life experience is not a waste; we can all learn from his lessons. In this sense he is still a hero, or in classic Chinese terms, a "hero by failure". To the reviewer below who called Rittenberg a "coward" with the "integrity of a worm" I want to ask, could you do better than him in those circumstances - in the bombing and in the prisons? That is a very pointed question.

Rittenberg's Chinese name Li Dunbai has been known to me since my childhood during the Cultural Revolution in China, though I never knew him personally, and still don't know him now. In this book it is his candid and thorough accounts of the personal experiences of the familiar history that grab me, from the opening page to the last. Unlike some other bestseller memoirs on the same period of China, such as "Wild Swans," which emphasize the virtue while downplaying the deficits of the protagonists, Rittenberg hides nothing about his own personal weakness and mistakes. Anyone who has gone through the same period knows that we were all participants, no matter how noble or gaudy our motives were, no matter you admit it or not. To deny this and dress up as a pure victim or even a hero is truly a shame. Only by facing our mistakes and failures honestly we can help ourselves.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ... 29 Mar 2002
By J.Z. Tao - Published on
The Kirkus Reviews above claim that this book is a "dramatic odyssey of an American who cast his lot with mainland China's Communists following WW II--and who lived to regret it.", I wonder if the reviewer really read the book or not, since the author expressed explicitly in serveral places as well as the feeling run throught the book that he never regreted any of his experiences in China, instead found himself enriched, strengthened, and grateful for it;
Another reviewer's comment that "How this man earn a living in the US as an expert on a country he never seemed to understand is beyond me.", is actually beyond myself. I doubt if a man can't at least learn one or two things about a country if one lived there for 35 years, especially with about half of the time shut in a prison, devoting to a course he believed in. What the course is and whether it is really there or an illusion, is another matter.
In my own experience the book could be read on serveral levels: a personal autobiography from youth to the old age; the story of an American youth's adventure in the middle kingdom across 1949; Chinese revolution, from Yanan period to its end in late 70s, in the eyes of a foreigner of left wing political persuation, especially as an active (foreign) participant's memory/story of Culture Revolution. The experience is rich as well as unique, writing clear and smooth, reading the book is highly enjoyable and educational.
But here also weakness of the book lies, that different themes and levels of discourses can be in conflicts to each other: chinese revolution and Culture Revolution could be too big, social and impersonal to constraint and present in a biographical framework; events and various persona, from Chairman Mao to individuals living around the author, could only be presented from one perspective, without other independent references.
Still, the experiences are unique, stories moving, themes grand, the book is highly recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Man Who Stayed Behind 27 Feb 2010
By J. Chatzkel - Published on
As someone who had followed events in China during the Mao led period, Rittenburg's book is a strong revealation of the politics that were taking place in that era. He was in a unique position for a westerner to know many of the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party prior to its victory over the Chinese Nationalists and to see how it operated in the transition to governing the China. It is easy to see how someone who had seen the corruption and warlord Nationalists look with great admiration to the Communist alterantive. Rittenburg commentary is honest and transparent. He believes that he is being tested when he was in fact being used. The pain of learning that politics trumped the revolution is visceral.

His book is a very valuable contribution to getting a grasp of what happened during the four or so decades he lived in China, and a momentous time it was. It is heartfelt and quite well written, and in my opinion quite innocent considering what the author went through as far as two multi year prison terms. The book ends at the end of 1980's when the next challenge to the legachy of the revolution took place - the move to a capitalist hybrid. I would have liked to see an epilogue that discusses the continuing evolution of China into a global economic power and the related issues of whether political democracy will emerge with that economic power. My recent trip to China was remarkable in seeing the use of smart technologies and for the most part great rise in living standards. At the same time there is little to see of what the core beliefs of the country and its leadership are at this point. The book is an important read for anyone who wants an insider experience of one of the most important changes in our time.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an exceptionally human look at the early PRC 6 Oct 2007
By John D. Van Fleet - Published on
Lots of people have derided Rittenberg in this space, most seemingly because of Rittenberg's religious-level belief in communism in his earlier years. Read this book not as a defense of communism (it isn't, at all), but as an intensely personal journal of one life, lived at the core of the PRC, from 1946 to the late 1970s. Rittenberg, now in his mid 80s, gives a unique perspective on the early leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, and the vision, plus the folly, that intertwined with the early years. Whether one believes that he earned his 15+ years of imprisonment or not, no feeling human can fail to empathize with those, including him, who were jailed by the regime.
In recent years, the PRC has admitted that the Cultural Revolution was a mistake, and therefore these years have seen a flurry of what's called 'scar literature' in China. Rittenberg's work cover much more than just his years in jail during the Revolution--it provides a remarkably close-up look at the emergent PRC in its first 25 years. Read it without fail if you seek to understand the roots of China today.
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