John Roderick; AP Correspondent Captured a Changing China

John Roderick, with a 1946 picture of himself and Mao Zedong. He reported on Mao and other communist leaders while living in their cave headquarters.
John Roderick, with a 1946 picture of himself and Mao Zedong. He reported on Mao and other communist leaders while living in their cave headquarters. (2004 Photo By Kazuo Abiko -- Associated Press)
By David Briscoe
Associated Press
Thursday, March 13, 2008

John Roderick, an Associated Press correspondent who won renown for his reports on Mao Zedong and other communist guerrilla leaders while living with them in their cave headquarters in the mid-1940s, has died. He was 93.

Mr. Roderick died March 11, friends and relatives said. He spent his last days in his Honolulu apartment, gathering friends for farewells, smiling and nodding when his weakened heart condition and pneumonia prevented speech.

He was a journalist to the end, completing a memoir about his restored farmhouse in Kamakura, Japan, and writing his final piece, a personal reflection, for the Associated Press last month.

"To my old eyes," he wrote in his Feb. 18 report, "it seems almost a miracle that China has survived the pain and bloodshed to emerge from poverty and become one of the richest of Earth's nations in so short a time."

Mr. Roderick was a leading China-watcher for decades, covering the country from its pre-revolution days to the economic reforms of the 1980s. After reporting on Chinese events from the outside in the years after Mao's victory in China's civil war, he reopened the Associated Press's bureau in Beijing in 1979.

"John was equal part lion and bon vivant. The result was a courageous reporter, elegant writer and marvelous storyteller," said Tom Curley, president and chief executive of the Associated Press. "He inspired generations of younger AP correspondents, and his loss is deeply felt."

Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai once praised Mr. Roderick as the journalist who "opened the door" to China for foreign news media.

In his final years, Mr. Roderick lived part of the year in the Japanese farmhouse restored for him by his adopted son, Yoshihiro Takishita. Last year, Princeton Architectural Press published Mr. Roderick's book "Minka: My Farmhouse in Japan," about the unusual 273-year-old home.

Mr. Roderick's career with the Associated Press spanned five decades with postings in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. In 1977, he was named an Associated Press special correspondent, one of only a handful. In 1985, the Japanese government honored him with its Order of the Sacred Treasure.

"We don't suffer from boredom in this business," he said in an interview at his home in Kamakura, south of Tokyo, in 1996. "We are very lucky, I think, to be in touch with history -- what people are doing and telling their stories."

China was his passion, and a high point for him came when, as a 31-year-old reporter, he spent seven months living among the communist rebel leadership in their capital, Yan'an, in central China between 1945 and 1947.

"Going to Yan'an and meeting all those people was a turning point," Mr. Roderick said. "It was a break for me."

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