The anti-radical campaign launched last autumn by China's new leaders is showing increasing signs of faltering.
Although there are no indications of radical resurgence, the first direct evdience of resistance by radicals and radical sympathizers has recently surfaced.
More pervasive is the problem of cynicism and apathy among the people and lower-and middle-ranking official twists and turns in recent years.
An increasing amount of circumstantial evidence suggests that the top leadership itself is failing to provide a firm sense of political direction because it is split on some basic issues.
For almost two decades political survival in China has meant faking it - people going along with every political twist and turn no matter what they might privately believe. People have been learning that today's heros may be tomorrow's villains.
One day the Chinese are told that Lin Piao is Mao Tse-tung's "closet comrade in arms," the next day that the same Lin Piao actually tried to assassinate Mao. Since 1973 Teng Hsiao Ping has been officially classiffied as a bad guy, then a good guy, then a bad guy again and now finally a good guy once again. At each shift people have been attacked for not going along with the new official version.
So people have learned to go through the motions, to shift with the tide no matter what they truly believe. The result is that cynicism, apathy and hypocrisy have been woven into the political fabric of China in the past two decades. These habits and attitudes now are proving hard to break even after a political transformation - the purge of the radical transformation - the purge of the redicals - that enjoys genuine and substantial popular support. Too many people, it seems, are just automatically responding to the current anti-radical campaign the way they did to the last half dozen campaigns.
With the purge of the radical "gang of four" last October, Chinese politics turned decisively away from the left. The anti-radical campaign is intended to consolidate this trend and to enlist popular support for the development of new, pragmatic policies.
Some of the new moderate leaders are clearly alarmed by the danger that changes will be half hearted and incomplete and that China will remain bogged down politically and economically.
The official press has been dominated since last weekend by articles expressing such fears in tones of muted alarm. Local party officials are warned against complacency, against any slackening in the anti-radical campaign. These articles insist that the radicals are far from eliminated and will make a comeback unless they and their influence are completely eliminated. The articles demand unity and obedience, an unnecessary demand unless some units or localities are ignoring or soft-pedaling Peking's directives for a clean-out of the radicals.
The evidence that radicals are resisting the current campaign sufaced in two wall posters that appeared in Shenyang, an industrial center that is the capital of the northeast province of Liaoning.
And here is the final problem.
In this most hierarchical of political systems, the top elite appears to be having great difficulty making up its collective mind about some major questions.
A fair amount of circumstantial evidence indicates that there was a series of important meetings of the Communist Party's top leadership were held last month. But the meeting or meetings came and went without any indications that any major decisions on policy or top leadership positions had been made.
Since last weekend there has been the usual flurry of article in the official press that usually follow leadership meetings. Beyond that tone of muted alarm concerning the progress of the anti-radical campaign, however, the articles really say nothing new.
The lack of substantial progress in filling leadership posts is even more intriguing. The appearance in early January of posters demanding the quick return of Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping to a senior post now can best be seen as an attempt by his allies to influence the meetings believed to have taken place later in the month. Despite all the rumors, Teng still has not reappeared and a consensus is developing among diplomats there that the top leadership is still split on the issue.