Almost a year ago, thousands of Chinese joined a violent and daring demonstration at "the gate of heavenly peace" in Peking, and the question of what to do about them has become as important to China today as the debate over amnesty for draft evaders is to Americans.
There have been enormous changes in Chinese politics since last April 5, many of them stimulated by that historic protest, and those who took that part generally find their actions vindicated. But their personal lives have been affected through demotions, transfer and even imprisonment.
The attitude toward the protest remains an unhealed sore in Chinese life.
About 100,000 people, by official count, filled the main square of Tienan Men that day to join or watch the apparently spontaneous protest against official neglect of the memory of Premier Chou En-lai.
By day's end more than 100 people had been injured, several vehicles burned, at least one building looted and burned and perhaps thousands of people arrested. There is no clear picture of what has happened to those arrested.
As with the American case of Vietnam war era draft evaders, the Tienan Men issue sheds much light on the wrenching human issues that the Chinese must still face in repairing the wreckage left by two decades of back-and-forth political strife.
One man is the key to this puzzle and his name is Teng Hsiao-ping. To the Chinese, the future of former Vice Premier Teng is an issue of immense interest and constant speculation. If he returns to political favor, then thousands of people who participated in last April's demonstrations in Peking - and in other Chinese cities - can cite his reinstatement as a president for wiping clean their own slates.
The surviving 12 members of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo have thus weighed the question of Teng at least as carefully as the U.S. Supreme Court considered as the decision in 1954 to send Linda Brown to a white public school, thus igniting the school desegregation issue. The impact on lives and on widely held beliefs - in China's case the infallibility of the late Chairman Mao Tse-Tung - could be enormous.
Even after a year, no foreign analysts can really be certain how spontaneous the Tien an Men demonstrations were.
The riots apparently were touched off by an official decision, probably supported by powerful dogmatists in Peking like Mao's wife, Chiang Ching, to remove wreths honoring the late Premier Chou En-lai immediately after Ching Ming, the traditional day for honoring the dead, last April 4 even though many people has aksed that they be left a few more days.
Chou had died Jan. 8 and his pragmatic colleague, Teng, was expected to succeed him. But the dogmatists launched a campaign against Teng, accusing him of trying to put technical experts back in control of the country when orthodox Maosim dictated that the politically pure should rule. This campaign was also directed surreptitiously at Chou, whose popularity with the Chinese people may have been even greater than Mao's.
Many chinese resented the effort to restrain mourning for Chou and removing the wreaths was a last straw. The party and army were full of Chou and Teng supporters capable of inciting the April 5 demonstration as a warning to the dogmatists, but there has been little concrete evidence yet of such behind-the-scenes maneuvering.
In any case, the riots apparently frightened the leadership into a temporary compromise. Teng was dismissed but Hua Ko-feng, an official with no close links to the dogmatists, was made Chou's successor and the position of other Chou supporters in the government solidified. After Mao died Sept. 9, Hua and other of Chou's men purged Chian Ching and the other dogmatists who had apparently provoked the riots in the first place.
This year Ching Ming falls on April 5, the first since the death of Mao and another Communist hero, Chu Teh, last year.
The question of orchestrating the tributes to Mao, Chu and Chou, making sure they are in proper propotion and do not touch off more undisciplined protests, will test Hua's political talents.
He must also handle the impulse among many Chinese who would use the occasion to call for pardon of last year's demonstrators.
Just how the rioters have been treated since their arrest is unclear. The official Chinese press has not addressed the question of how the riots shoould be viewed in light of [WORD ILLEGIBLE] political shifts.
Reports from the provinces the cate each of the four leading purge dogmatists - the Bang of Four - his been placed in a specific criminal category: "Party traitor" Chiang Ching; "nationalist spy" Chang Chunchiao; "new-born bourgeoisie" Wan Hung-wen and "alien class element "Yao Wen-yuan. This is seen as an important step in the disposition of their cases.
But Teng has not yet appeared, and no precise statement of his case has been made. Hua apparently realizes that untold numbers of Chinese who have suffered politically like Teng are waiting to apply for their own "reversals of verdict."