Thursday, June 10, 2010

Interesting People

   I’m taking a break from working on the final draft of my research paper (on Chinese journalism during the Second Revolution of 1913) to write about some of the interesting people who pop out of the pages of history as I do research. Most of these people were in China during the Republican period from 1912-1949, but as foreigners, I can’t necessarily concentrate my research on them. Once I get out of my grad program, I have a dream of researching these peoples’ lives and writing popular biographies. I think their stories are worth telling.

   The first and foremost of the adventurers or sojourners who I’ve encountered is Piero Rudinger (?-1961). He led an interesting life. I only know most of it because I followed up on a lead: in the New York Times of the 1940s-60s there were articles about a man named Peter Rodyenko, and I had a hunch that this person might be the son of Rudinger. However, when I read the New York Times obituary of November 7, 1961, I discovered that it was the same person!

   Piero Rudinger/ Peter Rodyenko was born in Vienna around 1888 to White Russian parents. He served as an officer in the Army of the Habsburg Empire, before joining the British Merchant Marine. He was later a news correspondent in India and China, and in the 1913 Second Revolution he reported on the combat in Shanghai between Sun Yat-sen’s southern revolutionaries and Yuan Shikai’s northern army. Around that time he published a book about his experiences that can be accessed here. Following the Second Revolution he joined Yuan Shikai as a military advisor (he seems to have been quite familiar with field artillery).

   Later, in 1919 he came to the United States, changed his name to Peter Rodyenko, and raised a battery of White Russian field artillery for the National Guard in 1923. During the Twenties he wrote pieces for the New York Times on Chinese culture and interior decorating. In World War Two he served as a Major in the Army Corps of Engineers. After the war, he went to college as the then-oldest known participant in the GI Bill, and got degrees from Adelphi and Hofstra Colleges and Columbia University. By the time of his death, he had risen to the rank of Lt. Colonel in the Army Reserves.

   My hope is to try to find Rudinger’s papers in the New York Public Library or some other archive, and some of his other works, so that I can write a biography about his unusual and interesting career.