- Title: CHINA: Mao's former U.S. comrade looks back on a turbulent 60 years
- Date: 26th September 2009
- Summary: BEIJING, CHINA (SEPTEMBER 22, 2009) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) AUTHOR AND FORMER MEMBER OF THE CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY SIDNEY RITTENBERG SAYING: "He was personally responsible for restructuring the economy. He didn't do things himself so much as he supported the reformers who were outrageous. People said 'but this is capitalism', and he said 'never mind, capitalism or socialism, we will figure that out when we see what it does. If it makes life better for the people, if it strengthens the country, and if it grows production, we don't care what it's called, we are going to do it'."
- Embargoed: 11th October 2009 13:00
- Location: China
- Country: China
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVAB0M5HLPUD1LIBW7PFR0RA0YE7
- Story Text: Sidney Rittenberg, a former friend and occasional interpreter of China's late Chairman Mao, recalls the "madness" of Mao's era, and warns of an ideological gap between the Communist Party and the people as New China celebrates its 60th anniversary.
Sidney Rittenberg was the only American ever to be admitted into the Chinese Communist Party.
The 88-year-old maintained a close relationship with high-level Party leaders and interpreted for Chairman Mao Zedong on several occasions during his time in China from 1944 to 1979.
Despite his loyalty to the Party, Rittenberg was purged and imprisoned in solitary confinement twice for a total of 16 years during the power struggles of Mao's rule.
Nonetheless, he said Mao had never intended to cause the deaths and suffering endured by people under his Chairmanship.
"So there was a kind of madness really. And because he was so powerful, many people suffered because of his madness. I don't think he ever intended evil at all. He was not like Hitler for example, wanted to destroy other races and impose the rule of a master race. Mao never had any such idea. He wanted people all over the world to rule themselves. But in fact, what he did moved in quite a different direction," said Rittenberg.
Mao launched the "Great Leap Forward" in 1958 hoping for an economic miracle as he mobilised the masses to kick-start rapid industrialisation in the country.
However, his economic experiment failed and led to widespread famine as people struggled to meet impossible targets.
Mao's rule culminated in the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), a decade of social upheaval and class struggle in which radical young students built a cult of personality around the aging leader.
Rittenberg was imprisoned at the beginning of the movement on allegations of conspiring against the Party and was only released and rehabilitated in 1977 after its end.
The turmoil and isolation of the period led China's economy to the brink of collapse until Mao's de facto successor Deng Xiaoping took over and steered the country into a path of modernisation and market reforms.
"He was personally responsible for restructuring the economy. He didn't do things himself so much as he supported the reformers who were outrageous. People said 'but this is capitalism', and he said 'never mind, capitalism or socialism, we will figure that out when we see what it does. If it makes life better for the people, if it strengthens the country, and if it grows production, we don't care what it's called, we are going to do it'," said Rittenberg.
Years of break-neck economic growth and unprecedented social change has made China the world's third largest economy with increasing international clout.
However, Rittenberg cautioned that Mao's destructive political movements and dramatic economic reforms have left a growing ideological void in Chinese society.
"The core challenge is that people in this country support the leadership of the Communist Party because it enables the economy to grow, and makes life better. And also because it is giving China a great international standing, international position, so that people feel proud. That's all. There is nothing the Party offers that can appeal to or inspire the young people. There is no vision, there is no inspiration, there is no ideal that is shared in common aside from make money, have a great career, you know. That's it," said Rittenberg.
As it prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic on October 1, the Party is hoping to showcase its spectacular economic growth.
Rittenberg currently lives between Beijing and Washington state, and runs a consultancy providing assistance to companies doing business in China.
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