Reporters on the Job

Walking Encyclopedia: While reporting today's story on legendary China expert Sidney Rittenberg, staff writer Robert Marquand was struck by the apartment he lives in now. "He's gone from living in a humble Beijing hutongto a floor near the top of a luxury suburban apartment building."

Bob says it also was a pleasure to meet Rittenberg's wife, because she stuck with Rittenberg even when he was denounced and jailed during China's Cultural Revolution. Rittenberg's first wife left him when he was thrown into prison. But his second wife, Yu Lin, remained with him, even though it was terribly difficult in China to stand by someone who was officially denounced.

"She's a strong Chinese woman," Bob says. "She is still someone who looks after him and is very much part of the work he's doing now as a business consultant."

"Rittenberg himself is just a walking encyclopedia of memories about China, which are often hard to come by in a country going through such rapid change," says Bob. "It's a place that's completely transforming itself."

"Rittenberg can give you firsthand impressions about things that you study all the time, but never had the inside track on," says Bob. "When we were driving back from the interview, Rittenberg said Chairman Mao always liked the United States, and that Mao wanted to set up a relationship with President Roosevelt, but that got knocked out by the period when the US took sides with the nationalists."

"Rittenberg points out that China's revolutionary leaders greatly admired US culture including movies and folk songs of the day," says Bob. "He says he can't help wondering how history would have turned out had there been some substantial dialogue between FDR and Mao."

– Matthew Clark
Staff editor

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