Sidney Rittenberg, probably more deeply involved in the Chinese Communist government than any American of the last three decades, is scheduled to return to the United States Sunday after a 34-year absence.
The 57-year-old South Carolina native, who once ran China's principal broadcasting center and also served two long terms in Chinese prisons, said today he expects to arrive in New York to visit his mother and sister and then travel to Washington, South Carolina and several other places where he has been invited to speak.
Rittenberg's visit comes at a time of unusual attention being paid to him and his Chinese wife, Yulin, by both the American and Chinese governments. The Rittenbergs were entertained by U.S. Ambassador Leonard Woodcock and his wife, Sharon, at the embassy in Peking this week and China's official news agency devoted a long article last week to Rittenberg's reminiscences of the late Chinese premier Chou En-lai.
Rittenberg said he has been deluged with speaking invitations, including one from Washington's All-Souls Unitarian Church. "Everybody wnats a firsthand impression of China," he said in a telephone interview from Peking. He appears more qualified to give one than any other American, having arrived in China in April 1945. He worked at the Communist revolutionary headquarters in Yenan, spent 1949 to 1955 in jail on charges of espionage, rose ot head Radio Peking in 1967, and spent 1968 to 1977 in jail on charges of fomenting an ultra-leftist plot. As titular head of Peking Radio, he ordered regular denunciations of the country of his birth. He has since been exonerated of all past charges, and works in Peking as an editor for the New China News Agency.
"I don't want to put in a plug for McDonalds," he said, "but I really want to try some hamburgers when I get to the states. Yulin has learned to make them here, but I plan to give her a refresher course."
Despite all he has suffered during China's political twists and turns since 1949, Rittenberg says he is an enthusiastic supporter of the Chinese government and plans to promote increased Sino-American friendship during his planned three-month visit.
"I think the most important thing is the tremendous potential of development in an American-Chinese friendship, not just for the U.S. and China but for the whole world," he said. "The Chinese are getting American technology and out people will hear about Chinese culture and social life, which can help solve the [Amercian]... confidence crisis."
Rittenberg is a short, bespectacled man who developed a reputation in the 1960s as a leader of the small community of foreign experts working for the Chinese government and as one of the most accomplished of Chinese linguists.He has in the past avoided public exposure, particularly after his release from prison in 1977, but in recent months has come in contact with many foreign journalists and U.S. diplomats.
Although denounced by Chinese Red Guards in 1967 as a "mysterious American... of doubtful antecedents and one to be suspected" and "a bourgeoius politiclan from the United States [who] usurped the leadership of a Chinese radio station," Rittenberg has won favor with the current Chinese leadership and has been quoted several times in the public press.
He attributes his first prison term to a Soviet attempt to paint him as an American spy and hurt his good friend and fellow Peking supporter, the late American writer Anna Louise Strong. The second prison term, which lasted nearly 10 years, he blames on the wife of Mao Tse-tung, Jiang Qing (Chiang Ching), who, he says, found him a convenient foreign scapegoat for her own aborted schemes to overthrow the government.
His recent article on Chou Eu-lai, carried at great length in the Chinese press, recounts his first meeting with China's revered former leader in 1946 when Rittenberg had been discharged form the U.S. Army and was working for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Adminstration.
"I was watching you. You applauded me loudly, but sat there scowling when the Nationalist [Chinese] general spoke," Rittenberg quoted Chou as telling him. "That isn't good, you have to be careful. If they find out that you're on our side, they may make trouble for you when you get back to the Nationalist-controlled areas."
"But how could you see me at that distance and in the darkness?" Rittenberg asked.
Chou smiled and gripped Rittenberg's ahdn: "The American people are our friends. We have to take care of our friends."
Rittenberg told of Chou complimenting him and his wife in 1963 for having "taken the road that the whole world will take one day, intermarriage between people of different nationalities."