Sidney Rittenberg was the first American to join the Chinese Communist Party (1946). Having lived in China from the end of World War II through the Chinese Revolution (1949), the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and well into the Reform Era of Deng Xiaoping, Professor Rittenberg was witness to extraordinary historical events. He was, however, far from passive. During his three decades in China, Sidney Rittenberg was a direct participant in China’s chaotic and often dangerous political culture, becoming personally acquainted with China’s top leadership—including Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and others—and often directly influencing government policy at the highest levels. Such direct engagement carried with it a high price, as Rittenberg periodically out of favor with powerful officials. As a consequence, and in two separate incarcerations, he spent collectively sixteen years in Chinese prisons, and many of those years in solitary confinement. Despite this harsh treatment, Sidney Rittenberg has remained an uncompromising champion of fair-minded appreciation of Chinese culture and society, and tireless advocate for better collective understanding of this important region of the world.
A documentary titled The Revolutionary (2012) has been made about his life.
He is a longtime friend of the Chinese Studies Program, and sometimes teaches at PLU as a Visiting Professor.