The Revolutionary - produced by Stourwater Pictures in association with Irv Drasnin.

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Mao and Friends



Video Librarian gave The Revolutionary 3.5 stars with a Highly Recommended rating:

"The history of Communist China is portrayed from a unique American perspective in this documentary, which profiles the life of Sidney Rittenberg (b. 1921), a South Carolina native and avowed leftist who became a member of the U.S. Communist Party while in college. During his World War II Army tour, Rittenberg was assigned to duty in China, and decided to remain there after the war's end, becoming a committed member of the Chinese Communist Party and working with many of its leaders, including Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai—although he was twice imprisoned on suspicion of espionage, spending a total of 16 years in solitary confinement.

Much of The Revolutionary consists of interviews with Rittenberg (illustrated with archival footage), during which he relates the events of his life, including his relationship with the Chinese Communist leadership, his activism during the Cultural Revolution, and his time in prison. Rittenberg's reflections are equally critical of xenophobic Chinese officials, Americans who rebuffed Chinese diplomatic overtures, and himself. Whether or not one agrees with the choices Rittenberg made or the opinions he holds, the documentary presents a remarkable firsthand account of a significant epoch in modern history known to Americans only at considerable remove (for the most part), as well as a portrait of a fascinating man."

- Highly recommended. (F. Swietek)

Matthew D. Johnson, Assistant Professor of East Asian History at Grinnell College, reviewed The Revolutionary for Asian Educational Media Service. Here's a brief excerpt:

"The Revolutionary offers a window onto a unique individual and a unique perspective on the Mao-led Communist Party, particularly during the latter's Cultural Revolution phase.  The film also poses important questions about what it meant to be a revolutionary in the twentieth century; how China's Communist Party members remained insulated from the negative consequences of their own rule; and how those who feel accepted by other cultures and societies can easily fall victim to hubris. The film would work particularly well paired with readings and discussions on the Cultural Revolution and history of U.S.-China relations, or in a comparative context in which revolution is treated as a transnational phenomenon...."

You can read the full review from Asian Educational Media Service by clicking here.

The Revolutionary had a successful one-week screening at the QUAD Cinema in NYC. Read about it on our press page.

The Revolutionary received a significant (and significantly positive) review by David Kenley in Education About Asia magazine. Here's a brief excerpt:

"Rittenberg’s life is a fascinating topic of investigation, and The Revolutionary is an engaging and interesting film. The documentary’s producers spent twenty-six hours interviewing Rittenberg over a five-year period, beginning in 2005. The film consists almost entirely of interview segments, allowing Rittenberg to tell his history in his own words. Interspersed with video of these interviews, the filmmakers insert still images of China’s colorful propaganda posters. These posters, they explain, “offer China’s own representations in depicting revolutionary ideas and events.”

...The Revolutionary is one more resource for teachers trying to cover twentieth-century China. World history and even US history teachers will find it helpful. After watching the film, students will have many questions that can stimulate further discussion. Ultimately, this is the hallmark of a great documentary."

The publisher of Education About Asia has kindly granted us permission to post the entire rewiew. It can be seen in a new window by CLICKING HERE.

The Revolutionary has recently been reviewed by EMRO (Educational Media Reviews Online). Here's some of it:

"Through beautifully captured snippets of interviews with Mr. Rittenberg—the lion’s share of the film—as well as an excellent narration, brief archival clips, agreeable musical accompaniment, and dramatic visuals of Chinese Communist art, Sidney Rittenberg tells about his participation at Mao’s side in the birth of the People’s Republic of China. Not long afterward, accused of being a spy, he serves a 6-year term in solitary confinement in jail, but he never loses his faith in Mao or his vision of Chinese democracy.... Technically, the film is outstanding. Without doubt, this is a splendid way to learn modern Chinese history and can enrich every study of 20th century China and Chinese Communism." READ MORE

Highly recommended.


Here are some more reviews from leading China experts:

"This is a splendid documentary. It brings out Sidney Rittenberg's incorrigible search for social justice and idealism as well as his remorseless ambition to make a difference and his relentless honesty about himself. He comes across as a complex, fallible, but admirable man. His relationship with his wife, Wang Yulin is touchingly portrayed. In a larger sense, Rittenberg's part in history (which was improbable but not at all small) and that history itself are brilliantly evoked. The ending, in which Rittenberg's very American pragmatism and his Chinese wife's commercial instincts triumph, is worthy of Voltaire's Candide. This is a painless but poignant way for Americans and other foreigners to begin to understand modern Chinese history. My wife and I loved the film."

–Chas Freeman Jr., former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
and Nixon's principal interpreter in China.


"A remarkable film that captures Sidney Rittenberg's idealism and the price that he paid for his commitment to the Maoist cause. Vaclav Havel, the Czech dissident-cum-president, once remarked that in a totalitarian system, everyone faces the predicament of complicity in the regime's deeds. With extraordinary and moving candor, Rittenberg acknowledges his own complicity, as in his participation in "struggle meetings" that damaged the lives of others."

–Thomas P.Bernstein, Prof.emeritus, Columbia University

"Riveting! What delivery. What a tale. A man of true integrity telling a tale heavy with history and personal resolve and commitment. One gets a sense of the China of those days that is hard to obtain elsewhere."

–Dorothy J. Solinger, Professor, Dept. of Political Science
University of California, Irvine

"Rittenberg's story is valuable not only for its substance—the first hand experience of an American at the apex of many key events of modern Chinese history as well as a prisoner at the bottom of it—but also for his performance—how he analyzes and articulates the turbulent decades of his life in revolutionary China."

–Thomas B. Gold, Professor of Sociology,
University of California, Berkeley

"This is the extraordinary story of Sidney Rittenberg, an idealistic American who believed wholeheartedly in China’s communist revolution. As he looks back on the forces that lifted him to fame and then landed him in Chinese prisons, Rittenberg emerges as an engaging, complex, perplexing personality. The film is presented with wonderful clarity, honesty, and insight. Anyone wanting to understand the trials and tribulations of modern China should see this documentary."

–Terry Lautz, Syracuse University

"Through the invaluable insights and rather new perspectives provided by Sidney Rittenberg as a result of his unique engagement with the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party over the course of six decades, viewers of The Revolutionary are provided with a deeper and more profound "insider's" understanding of the course of the Chinese revolution and the rise of modern China as we know it today. Sidney's very up-close and personal self-assessment of his own role in the frequently messy nature of Chinese political affairs, including the good, the bad and ugly sides of his own involvement—not only gives strong credibility to the film, but it also allows us to better appreciate both the potential virtues and hazards of becoming a zealous "true believer" in any type of radical political movement or campaign."

–Denis Fred Simon, PhD, Vice-Provost for International
Strategic Initiatives, Arizona State University

"In this absorbing documentary film, Sidney Rittenberg reflects on his remarkable life as an American member of the Chinese Communist Party. From the mid-1940s through the end of the Mao era, Rittenberg had remarkable access to the highest reaches of political power in Beijing. Ranging from his conversations with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai to his two long imprisonments under suspicion of espionage, Rittenberg provides a fascinating window onto China's continuing revolution under Mao."

–Andrew Walder, Denise O'Leary and Kent Thiry Professor, School of Humanities and Sciences, Stanford University

"The Revolutionary provides a fascinating perspective on the greatest revolution of the twentieth century as seen through the eyes of an American progressive swept up in it. Sidney Rittenberg is a master raconteur who tells his tale of dramatic political ups and downs with all the charm familiar to those who know him."

–Michael H. Hunt, Emerson Professor Emeritus,
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

"The Revolutionary is the remarkable story of Sidney Rittenberg, as only he could tell it. It is equally the story of China during decades of political and social upheaval and of his deep personal involvement in the Chinese revolution. Through Rittenberg's eyes and in his words, China's past comes alive. He delves into this history with clarity and candor, and does not obscure his role in events that a lesser person would prefer to forget or to rationalize. This is a compelling and deeply moving film that deserves the widest possible audience."

–Jonathan D. Pollack, Senior Fellow, John L. Thornton
China Center, Brookings Institution

"A mesmerizing portrait of a remarkable man. Fascinating from beginning to end."

–June Teufel Dreyer, Professor of
Political Science, University of Miami

"This revealing film goes a long way toward solving the puzzle of how an idealistic young American civil rights activist became the first American member of the Chinese Communist Party, only to become enmeshed in the brutally cruel and chaotic factional struggles of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution. Highly recommended for those seeking more clearly to comprehend both the allure and the inhumanity of revolutionary Maoism."

–Richard Baum. Author, "China Watcher: Confessions of a Peking Tom" and "Burying Mao."


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