The Chinese Communist Party has issued two stern warnings that appear to be directed at regional leaders who have assumed great power in the post-Maoer. Don't resort to underground conspiracies, the party said, to try to broaden your power base.
An article in Red Flag, the party's theoretical journal, party newspaper, people's Daily, go out of their way to remind readers of the tramatic purge of party bosses in the northeastern and eastern regions in 1955.
"We Communists, not to mention the senior cadres, must be open and above-board politically. We must openly express our political views at all times and . . . under no circumstances resort to conspiratorial means," said a quote from the late Chairman Mao Tse-tung printed in large type in People's Daily.
The timing of the articles suggests that they may be directed at two Politburo members. Canton military region commander Shih-Yu and Kwangtung provincial party chief Wei Kuo-Ching, who appear to have gained great influence in southern China through a series of recent local party shakeups. The relationship between the two men and their Politburo colleagues in Peking has come into question since the two failed to attend a recent high-level national industrial conference in Peking. Both Hsu and Wei are also thought to be supporting the rehabilitation of controversial former Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping, whose failure so far to reappear in public suggests a serious political debate in Peking.
The new references to the 1955 purge of northeastern administrative chairman Kao Kang and eastern administrative committee chairman Jao Shu-shih are all the more startling because China has just revealed plans to revive in some way the regional system that gave Kao and Jao much power.
The system was abolished about the time Kao and Jao were purged; from then on provinces reported to Peking directly rather than through the six regional bureaus. But early this month Vice Premier Yu Chiu-li announced that "the six major administrative regions of northeastern, northern, eastern, central-southern, southwestern and northwestern China are step by step to build up their respective economic systems, which vary as regards standards and characteristics, so that they can function self-reliantly while working in close coordination and have a fairly harmonious development of agriculture and light and heavy industry."
Kao Kang, a Politburo member and once a close comrade-in arms of Mao, had the same job Yu now holds, head of state planning, when he was accused of heading an "anti-party bloc" using his base in Manchuria to take control in Peking. He eventually committed suicide, which Peking called "an ultimate expression of his betrayal of the party."
"Kao Kang and Jao Shu-shih never openly displayed their anti-party program before the party organization or at any party conference," said the article by the theoretical group of the Liaoning provincial party committee in the latest issue of Red Flag.
"They concealed-their true features and secretly spread stories and gossip, fabricated rumors, formented disunity, set up their own factions, made trouble and created splits."
Although Hsu and Wei did not appear at the recent industrial conference with the rest of the leadership, they have been active in the south where they live. Wei has been reported by Canton radio to be receiving delegations, and Hsu turned up Friday reviewing militia in Human, which is chairman Hua Kuo-feng's base as well as part of the Canton military region that Hsu commands.
Hsu is undoubtedly involved in a continuing debate over how quickly China should modernize its armed forces. Two recent articles by soldiers under his command directly challenged the idea that men are more important than weapons in war.
In seeming retaliation, civilian Chinese leaders have come to the defense of this Maoist dictum lately, and called for developing weaponry only as fast as the overall economy develops.
China's radio stations and newspapers rarely go many months without issuing some warning that betrays a disagreement in the leadership. In a few cases, the disputes have ended in violent factional clashes and purges; in other instances they have been resolved or allowed to simmer while more pressing national problems, are taken care of.
With China just now recovering from the tremendous political battles and economic dislocations of 1976, the current Peking debates would not ordinarily be expected to become too heated.
But there has been a flurry of reports of preparations for a new party congress later this year. Such a congress would require decisions as to who should sit on a new Politburo and would test the strengths of any factions now forming behind the image of united leadership put forward by Hua and his administration.
Hua may see the regional system as a way to achieve a balance of diversity and unity. The method was used with some success in the early 1950s to help regions recover from the ravages of civil war, just as China must now recover from the fight over succession to Mao.
If Hua is studying the case of Kao Kang to decide what to do about Hsu Shih-yu, he may do as Mao did to Kao, and award him an important job in Peking, cutting him off from his local base and testing his loyalty.