Extra pay for ideas!

Col. Ching Ping repeated the phrase and smiled indulgently after a group of Americans touring the Dong Fang Hong (The East is Red) Auto Works here had asked about it.

Yes, he was familiar with the American suggestion system that rewards workers for ideas that save money or time or increase efficiency.

But such rewards would constitute an incentive, he explained patiently. And incentives are revisionist (revisionism, a cardinal sin, describes any attempt to revise basic Marxism, ordinarily in the direction of capitalism).

How about overtime pay? More pay for extra work? Also incentives, Col. Ching said. Also revisionist.A worker's satisfactions came from helping to build the nation.

But that was February 1972.

Last month, one of those Americans, returning for a third time to the factory, which makes a vehicle called a Jeep, found an extraordinary change.

Those once-heretical incentives are now official policy.Bulletin boards now celebrate not only the workers who produce above norms but, more significantly, the bonuses they receive.

Practices have changed radically, not only from 1972 but even from 1975, the last time the American had visited the plant.

As those comparisons with the past reflect China's new course toward modernization by the year 2,000, another comparison - with the American Motors Corp. plant in Toledo, Ohio, which also makes Jeeps - demonstrates why China has embarked upon that course.

But first, a return to 1972.

Then, Dong Fan Hong's management had puzzled the U.S. visitors. Col. Ching's credentials for running an auto factory seemed sketchy at best. The colonel, 54, had commanded an infantry battalion with the crack Eighth Route Army.

His deputy, Fung Ke, 49, had no more relevant experience. He had been a government administrator, the equivalent of a county official in the area around Peking.

The two had been sent to the plant, a center of disruption during the Cultural Revolution, to restore order, as similar officials had been all over China.

They ritually denounced for the visitors those workers with "ultra-leftist tendencies." The ultra leftists had "been skeptical about everything and tried to overthrow everything," Col. Ching complained.

They had belittled regulations posted in the shops "as 'wordage' which hindered the workers," Fung had grumbled. "They said, "These things don't matter.'"

By 1975, an American revisiting Dong Fang Hong found that Col. Ching and Fung were both gone. A hierarchy drawn from among the workers, technicians and party "cadres" was running the factory. But production methods still stirred memories of the U.S. of the '30 or early '40s.

Peculiarly Chinese, though, were the elaborate messages, illustrated with bright chalk drawings, that are a fixture in most factories.

In 1975, these were devoted to the debate then raging over the late premier Chou En-lai's policies versus those of the group that since has been thoroughly reviled as "the Gang of Four." The arguments were couched in allegories of a Chinese literary epic, "The Water Margin."

Today, with the Gang of Four reportedly in jail, that debate is moot. The factory seems much brisker and better organized than in 1975. At least three production lines have been automated since then. Production is up.

The resultant savings, in the form of lowered prices, have been passed along to the customers. The main customer is the government. It also owns the factory. And is national price commission sets the price of the Jeep. Private ownership of autos does not exist in China.

Not the least significant of the changes is in the name. The factory is no longer Dong Fang Hong, a virtual trademark of the late chairman Mao Tse-tung. It has now reverted to its pre-Cultural Revolution name of Peking Auto Factory.

Bonuses result not only from suggestions to improve production, but also from work beyond the 48-hour, six-day week. And from extra output. One man was listed as doing the equivalent of 169 hours and 26 minutes worth of work in April's first 10 days.

Instituted a year ago, the bonuses still are regarded as experimental. Their value as an incentive is questionable because more than 90 percent of the work force gets some kind of bonus, although only 20 percent qualifies for the top payment.

The amount and quality of a worker's output (China is currently on a quality campaign) and his or her attendance record are all figured into the bonus. It can add 5, 7 or 9 yuan a month (repectively $3.25, $4.55 and $5.85 at the official pegged rate of exchange) to a worker's pay.

Incentives for scarce technicians and engineers - crucial to China's goal of modernizing its industry by the year 2000 - are of a different, more lucrative kind. They are built into a pay scale that can bring as high as 203 yuan ( $132) a month, six times the lowest-paid and twice the highest-paid production worker's salary.

Apart from the bonus, workers' basic pay at Dong Fang Hong remains unchanged. In 1972, it ranged over eight levels, from 34 yuan to 108 yuan ($22.10 to $70.20) a month. It does still. The average is 51 yuan a month.

With a work force of 9,400 (including 700 technicians and 1,500 office workers), the factory can produce 15,000 Jeeps a year.

It makes just one model, a single, stripped-down Jeep (yes they use that name, giving fits to American Motors Corp., which owns the copyright).

The cost of producing one is 9,700 yuan ($6,305). It is sold for 14,000 yuan ($9,100), resulting in a 4,300-yuan profit. The output is in one stripped-down, standard-shift, four-wheel-drive, olivedrab, 14.7-mile-per-gallon model.

At AMC in Toledo, 6,000 hourly and 1,100 salaried workers turn out 170,000 Jeeps a year in seven distinct models and 14 different colors. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the comparable four-wheel-drive model at 17.6 mpg.

Salesroom prices range from $5,588 for that unadorned Jeep, the CJ-5, to $12,250 for the Wagoneer LTD, loaded with options.

At Toledo, the production workers' pay ranges from $960 to $1,040 a month for the standard 40-hour week.

Thus, in Toldeo, 24 percent fewer people working 17 percent fewer hours produce 10 times as many vehicles in a greater variety than those in Peking.

Yet, though the average Toledo worker received about 30 times the pay of his Peking counterpart, the Jeep he makes sells for a generally lower price. And Toledo is no paragon of an ultra-modern auto plant.

The reason for this difference is not that U.S. workers toil harder than their Chinese opposite numbers (they may, but hard work along couldn't possibly produce those kinds of discrepancies).

The answer is that the Toledo workers have modern machine tools, and the Peking workers have few of them. Which is why China is interested in buying heavy machine tools.

But Peking hasn't been standing still, either.

In 1971, Dong Fang Hong, originally a repair facility, produced 10,000 Jeeps, twice the capacity for which it had been designed.

Today's output is not only 50 percent above that, but is more than 200 percent above the 1969 production of 4,000.

Some of that increase in productivity had permitted a 12 1/2 percent price cut. The Peking Jeep that retailed for 16,000 yuan in 1966 now goes for 14,000 yuan, they say.

Four other developments strike the returning visitor.

One is that the plant is reaching out to foreign markets. About 20 percent of the output is exported to Africa, the Arab nations, North and South Asia and France. The exporting started in 1970, but much of it was foreign aid, such as that to North Vietnam during the Vietnam war.

Another change is the memo of understanding the factory signed last Feb. 26 with AMC. The two firms will explore the feasibility of producing four-wheel AMC-style Jeeps in Peking to be sold in the China market. This would permit production of a more modern vehicle.

Still another innovation could widen the plant's markets. The technical staff is exploring the possibility of producing a conventional small car.

The women's role is expanding. Women account for one-third of the work force, as they did in 1972. But then none was higher than the sixth pay level. Today, 202 of those 700 enginees and technicians who are paid at the special higher rates are women. CAPTION: Picture, Workers assemble Jeeps at the Peking Auto Factory where once-heretical incentives for suggestions, overtime and extra output have been official policy for a year. By Bill Ringle for The Washington Post