How many westerners have Chinese citizenship? How difficult is it to obtain a Chinese green card?
There are only around 12,000 westerners holding Chinese citizenship.
Sidney Shapiro, one of them, died over the weekend at his hutong home in Beijing. He was 98.
An American-born author and translator Sidney Shapiro was one of the first naturalized Chinese citizens invited and attended the 1949 founding ceremony of the People’s Republic of China. Premier Zhou Enlai granted him the right. He also served as the oldest foreign-born member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
The two well-known Sidney’s in China’s contemporary history both have very compelling stories.
Sidney Shapiro, lesser known in the Western world, going by the Chinese name 沙博理, translated Outlaws of the Marsh (水浒传), one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature as well as the more modern authors Ba Jin (巴金) and Mao Dun（矛盾). I haven’t read any of the four classics, but ZJ, and many Chinese high school students have. He also, interestingly, translated works devoted to the ancient Kaifeng Jews, Jewish-Chinese interaction, and other Jewish papers by Chinese scholars.
Shapiro, a Jewish-American, was born in New York in 1915. The United States Army chose Shapiro to study Chinese preparing for a possible American arrival on Chinese soil. He went to China of his own accord after graduating with a law degree from Yale, landing in Shanghai in 1947, where he met his wife Fengzi, an actress and a strong supporter of the Communist Party of China.
He became a Chinese citizen in 1963, worked for the Foreign Languages Press for 50 years, in addition to his appointment to the CPPCC from 1983 until present. However, he never joined the Party.
“I was still too much of a maverick, reluctant to accept any organizational strictures or discipline. But I had the greatest respect for the Chinese party, and fully supported its principles and goals,” he wrote in his autobiography I Chose China.
The second Sidney’s last name is Rittenberg, known in China as 李敦白. Also Jewish-American, Rittenberg is more well-known in the Western press and operates a consulting firm with his second Chinese wife. He’s 93. He lived in China from 1944 to 1979, and his memoir, The Man Who Stayed Behind, mirrors how very different the Sidney’s experiences were.
Rittenberg counted himself a member of the United States communist party as a 19 year-old college student before becoming the first American citizen to join the CPC. He had personal dealings with Mao, Zhu De, and Zhou Enlai as well as access to Yan’an in 1946. He worked for Xinhua and Radio Peking, ended up imprisoned twice for a total of 16 years, and in 1980 returned to the United States with his family in tow. The Army wanted him to learn Japanese, however a less than enthused Rittenberg was reassigned to learn Chinese instead.
Whereas Shapiro contributed towards cultural understanding of China through working as a literary translator, losing none of his fire in sticking up for China in the later part of his life, Rittenberg was never as devoted to the cause, and reminiscent of the modern-day “crusader” who moves to China hoping to make monumental changes to the people or system.
Shapiro lambasted the United States in 2006 following one of the State Department’s regular criticisms of China’s human rights.
“Democracy in America, which was won by the public through long-time struggle, had started going downhill in the 20th century,” Xinhua quoted him as saying on the sidelines of that year’s annual meeting of parliament.
“In the States today, the intelligence agencies have even got the power to tap citizens’ phone calls and inquire what books a person is borrowing from the library,” he said.
Shapiro is fondly remembered and his passing didn’t go unnoticed on the Chinese web; 163, the news portal featured an obit front and center the other day. On the other hand, Rittenberg appeals to the Western press, and in 2012 a documentary, The Revolutionary, featured his 34 years of being “China’s American.”
It’s difficult to comprehend devoting oneself so fervently to China, in every capacity, especially as both Sidney’s stayed during a very volatile time in China’s history. While living in Xi’an, I heard and was guilty of complaining about the pollution, cultural and lifestyle differences. It’s amazing to think these two adjusted to so much, and Shapiro lived out his remaining days in Beijing, even when his wife had passed on. He worked until the end, translating and attending the annual CPPCC. I may not see eye to eye with either Sidney in terms of their political choices, but their choices, in terms of their lives’ trajectories, are praiseworthy.
How many of us modern “China hands” would be willing to put ourselves in either Sidney’s shoes?