Locked up by Mao, U.S. ex-revolutionary places hopes on Xi

Mon Nov 12, 2012 5:16am EST
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By Sui-Lee Wee and Jane Lanhee Lee

BEIJING (Reuters) - Incoming Chinese president Xi Jinping has a "democratic style" that will allow him to lay the groundwork for much-needed political and economic reforms, one of only a handful of Americans to join the Chinese Communist Party said on Monday.

Sidney Rittenberg came to China in 1945 as an idealistic young U.S. soldier and got swept up in the Communist revolution, eventually becoming a translator for the founder of modern China, Mao Zedong.

As such, Rittenberg, 91, has had a uniquely close-up view of many of China's most dramatic events.

He told Reuters he believed Xi would find it hard to push through significant changes due to embedded vested interests.

Rittenberg, who now lives in the United States, tells of going into the Chinese countryside with Xi's father, Xi Zhongxun, to meet the rural poor when Rittenberg was a mid-level party cadre.

"His father back in the Yan'an days was one of my closest friends," Rittenberg said in an interview in a teahouse in Beijing, referring to the Communists' northern stronghold in Shaanxi province. "And in seeing him, I hope some of the father rubbed off on him.

"I think there's some reason that it did from some interviews he's given," he said, adding that Xi Zhongxun was the "most democratic-minded of the old party leadership".

Xi Jinping, 59, is expected to formally take over as party leader on Thursday, when President Hu Jintao transfers power at the end of a week-long congress in Beijing.   Continued...

China's Vice President Xi Jinping walks behind as China's outgoing President Hu Jintao (L) talks with former President Jiang Zemin at the beginning of the opening ceremony of 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, November 8, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Lee