Ouster of 2 Editors May Signal Purge in China

Michael Weisskopf, Washington Post Foreign Service

November 15, 1983; Page A16

PEKING, Nov. 14, 1983 -- The ouster of two top officials of the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily may signal a wider purge of liberal intellectuals blamed for spreading "spiritual pollution" in China, diplomats said today.

Diplomats said the 3-week-old campaign against western life style and philosophy apparently has targeted other cultural and literary figures considered threatening to the government of Deng Xiaoping. A spokesman for People's Daily confirmed that Hu Jiwei has stepped down as director of China's most influential newspaper and Wang Ruoshui is out as deputy editor.

The spokesman refused to give reasons for their removal.

Diplomats said both men are identified with liberal Marxist views questioning the absolute infallibility of socialism.

Although the views surfaced in intellectual debate among dedicated Communists, they are regarded as contagious and potentially disruptive in a nation filled with disillusioned youth.

"Once you question the scientific precision of socialism," said a western analyst, "you threaten to undermine the legitimacy of the whole regime. A little skepticism goes a long way in one of the world's most alienated societies."

Hu first came under a political cloud two years ago when he was editor in chief of People's Daily.

The party organ initially balked at criticizing writer Bai Hua for his screenplay describing past mistreatment of Chinese intellectuals.

The Army branded Bai's work "antipatriotic" and "antisocialist," and the writer was forced to recant it.

Hu reportedly was censured for coming to Bai's defense and later was transferred to the largely ceremonial post of People's Daily director.

Wang, who was the newspaper's chief theoretician, is a leading spokesman for the theory of alientation in socialism.

He wrote an article as early as 1981 concluding that socialism is as vulnerable as capitalism to public malaise.

As deputy editor in charge of ideology, he was responsible for publishing an article last March by a prominent cultural official who espoused the theory.

The official, Zhou Yang, chairman of the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, publicly apologized for his conclusions last week.

Zhou said his article was so careless "it could be distorted and used by certain people with ulterior motives and antisocialist ideas and sentiments."

"It also could lead some people whose will is weak or whose ideology is wavering to lose confidence in the future of socialism and communism," he was quoted as saying in his self-criticism.

Deng, China's paramount leader, reportedly criticized People's Daily for giving attention to a theory that could be interpreted as justifying alternative principles and life styles imported from the West.

While moving against leftist opponents in the party, Deng has launched a full-scale offensive against pornography, western-style plays, experimental writing, long hair and Hong Kong love ballads--all lumped together under the heading of "spiritual pollution."

Officials have taken pains to distinguish the current campaign from the violent Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976, and the effort has thus far been confined to banning a few magazines and criticizing writers.

Diplomats believe that other editors and cultural officials could be sacked along with Hu and Wang.

The People's Daily spokesman said Hu was replaced as director by Qin Chuan, who had been the paper's editor in chief. Qin's old post will be filled by another deputy editor, Li Zhuang. It was unknown who replaced Wang.

Diplomats said Qin and Li are known for more conventional ideologicial views and can be counted on to toe the party line.