Sidney Rittenberg may not have the nine lives of a cat, but he has lived at least three: first, he spent his childhood in Charleston, S.C., going on to college in North Carolina; he then moved to China at the end of World War II, observing and participating in the Chinese revolution, remaining there for the next 35 years; he returned to the United States in 1980 to become a highly regarded consultant, advising major corporate clients on doing business in China.
The National Committee hosted a screening of The Revolutionary, a documentary on Rittenberg’s extraordinary story, on Wednesday, October 3, at the New York Institute of Technology’s Auditorium on Broadway. In from the west coast to talk about the film were Sidney Rittenberg himself and Irv Drasnin, producer, writer, interviewer, and narrator of the film, who has had a long career in documentary filmmaking and broadcast journalism.
BIO – Sidney Rittenberg
Growing up in a prominent Jewish family in Charleston, South Carolina, Sidney Rittenberg attended the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he was active in leftist political circles, advocating for labor and civil rights. He was drafted during World War II and sent to China following Chinese language study at Stanford University. Rittenberg decided to stay in China after the end of the war. He traveled to Yan’an where met Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and many other Communist leaders.
Rittenberg witnessed, and took part in, the formation of modern China. He also spent a total of 16 years in solitary confinement, first after Stalin accused him of being a spy. He was released after Stalin’s death six years later. He subsequently became a strong and vocal proponent of the Cultural Revolution before becoming its victim. He ended up back in prison when he got on Jiang Qing’s wrong side as a leader of a faction at Radio Peking, in solitary confinement for 10 years this time. After his release, he and his Chinese wife moved to the United States.
Now 91 years old, Rittenberg and his wife provide consulting services for large American corporations with interests in China. The Revolutionary was created over a 5-year period and produced by Irv Drasnin, Don Sellers and Lucy Ostrander. The tagline reads: “Mao’s call for a Cultural Revolution was answered by tens of millions of Chinese… and one American.”
BIO - Irv Drasnin
Irv Drasnin’s career in documentary filmmaking and broadcast journalism includes 35 years at CBS News and PBS where he covered domestic and foreign, historical and contemporary issues. His 31 documentaries include Misunderstanding China (1972), Shanghai (1974), Looking for Mao (1983), China after Tiananmen (1992), and now The Revolutionary. Among his many awards are the DuPont-Columbia Award (twice), the Director’s Guild, the Writer’s Guild (twice), the American Film and Video Festival (twice) and Christopher awards (twice). For the American Academy of Achievement, he interviewed Mikhail Gorbachev, Desmond Tutu, Colin Powell, Willie Mays, Wynton Marsalis, Alan Shephard, Steven Jay Gould, James Michener, John Wooden and George Lucas, among many others.
Drasnin taught in the documentary film program at Stanford. He holds a master’s degree from Harvard in East Asian Studies with a specialization in China and a B.A. in political science from UCLA. He was a founding member of The China Council of the Asia Society and its co-chairman (1981-83).