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China Revives Old Ways to Curb Students

January 18, 1987|JIM MANN | Times Staff Writer

PEKING — In the past few weeks, Chinese propaganda organs have pressed harder and harder the theme that university students should begin to work in some of China's poorer areas in order to acquire practical experience in life.

"During the winter vacation, many students will be going to factories and the countryside under the organization of their schools," the Guangming Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper for intellectuals, said last week.

An official of the Communist Youth League, delivering an address on radio, spoke of the value of students working in "construction teams or battalions."

For Chinese students, the articles about the importance of acquiring "practical experience" serve as a chilling reminder of the time, during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, when millions of young people were required to work in the countryside for years at a time.

Articles about the countryside are just one of the techniques Chinese authorities are using to halt student demonstrations. Propaganda, personal ties, appeals to Confucian values and threats of police action have all been used.

The regime has made it increasingly clear that it will use force if necessary. It has warned that the student unrest is being instigated by "class enemies." This language would clearly be used to justify mass arrests or imprisonment if the demonstrations continue.

Student demonstrations during the last several weeks climaxed months of discussion of the need for more democracy and liberalization in China, and for checks on the power of the Communist Party. Party conservatives seized upon the growing signs of dissent and protests in the streets to launch the regime on a campaign against "bourgeois liberalization" and "total Westernization in China."

China's swing back toward political orthodoxy culminated Friday in the replacement of Hu Yaobang as general secretary of the ruling Communist Party. Hu, identified with those favoring liberalization, admitted his "mistakes on major issues of political principles," and resigned. He was succeeded by Premier Zhao Ziyang, who was named acting general secretary of the party.

The political struggle that led to last week's shift in leaders had been evident in recent restrictions.

Campus Visits Curbed

For the past 10 days, visitors to many universities have been barred from entering unless they could show that they have a friend inside or some other special reason for going in.

On Jan. 8, the anniversary of the death of Premier Chou En-lai and a day of special political sensitivity in China, the police cordoned off Tian An Men Square in the heart of Peking to prevent any new pro-democracy demonstrations. Visitors were allowed to walk up to the Monument to the People's Heroes in the square only in groups of 20, and plainclothes police photographed the few who did so.

In general, however, the regime has been trying to avoid the use of force and has been concentrating on other methods to keep the students out of the streets. One of the most effective has been to enlist the help of students' families.

A Western teacher at a university in Peking recently discovered that virtually all the students in his classroom had something in common.

"Within the last couple of weeks," he said, "the ones from out of town have all gotten letters from their parents back home, telling them not to take part in any more student demonstrations. And the students who live in Peking have gotten visits or phone calls from mom and dad, telling them the same thing."

Also Used on Taiwan

Appealing to filial piety in an effort to head off student dissent is not a technique new or unique to the Communist regime. It is a well-tested method that has been used by Chinese leaders in many different settings.

Last fall when a "free speech" movement sparked brief unrest at National Taiwan University in Taipei, student activists there reported that Taiwan's Nationalist regime used the same method. Students taking part in demonstrations got unexpected visits from their parents, who urged the youngsters to stay out of trouble.

Another method being employed in China to stop the pro-democracy demonstrations has been to isolate students from the press. China's party-controlled press has generally avoided sending reporters to cover demonstrations and has relied on accounts provided by Chinese officials.

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities have begun to take measures to restrict foreign press coverage. Film has been taken away from some foreign news photographers and television cameramen. After a demonstration at Peking University in early January, official Chinese newspapers asserted that students were being urged on by foreign correspondents--thus effectively warning students that they might be in trouble if they talk too much to foreign journalists.

Wary of Foreign Contacts

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