JUDGMENTS OF China on its 50th anniversary as a state ruled by a Communist party tend to start with its substantial social and economic achievements and then to move on to its political lag both in popular democratic participation and in its retention of a discredited Marxist ideology. But that review scarcely does justice to the contradictions on view in Beijing last Thursday at the huge parade organized for the anniversary. There was an abundant celebration of the achievements (most of which have taken place in the last 20 post-Mao years), including the military power acquired steadily and sometimes stealthily over time; this power makes China increasingly important in the Asian security equation. But there was also the glorification of a collection of figures in the Communist pantheon whose very mention and fulsome honoring cast a shadow over the holiday proceedings.

One figure is, of course, Mao Zedong, founder of the Communist regime in China and creator of the Cultural Revolution, a cruel and irrational phase of Chinese development that took an immense toll of the country's economic capacity and its human capacity as well. Whatever else Mao did, he is forever identified with the death by purge or starvation of tens of millions of his countrymen. But, then, what would you expect of a regime that simultaneously honors the Soviet Communist state's founder, Lenin? Lenin invented 20th century mass political murder. Leninism is the creed of single-party, unaccountable, totalitarian politics. A party that salutes that creed puts its own power and preservation before all the lofty public-spirited goals it otherwise embraces.

It is precisely because the People's Republic of China extols the heroes it does that its relationship to the United State is incomplete and uncertain. A country with the values of a true democracy is bound to have a jagged fit with one that professes a belief, even a diluted belief, in class war. China's attempt to modernize on the economic side while retaining a traditional Communist ideology to monopolize power on the political side sharpens more tensions than it dulls. That does not mean no purpose is served by the United States working with China on common concerns, first of all, Taiwan. It means that a realistic attitude, free of happy talk, must guide American policy.