When party officials recruiting for factory jobs arrived at the southern Chinese village, Tang Nien-ching allowed himself to hope he had found salvation from the drudgery of farm work.

Then he watched as other high school graduates, as desperate to return to the city as he was, plied the officials with free meals and vitamins, a much sought-after item in China. He saw his own name finally scratched from the list of likely recruits because his father, a teacher, had gotten into some political trouble.

Most of Those "educated youths," - the Chinese term for high school graduates - have left that rural village in the four years since, either finding city jobs or, like Tang, sneaking into Hong Kong. Behind them they leave the great economic and social gulf between city and country in China looking as wide as ever.

In the just concluded session of China's parliament, the National People's Congress, Communist Party Chairman Hua Kuo-feng called for a national effort to "gradually eliminate the distinctions between town and country."

Instead of using the old draconian method of making city like less attractive by freezing factory wages and sending educated city youth to the countryside, Hua seemed to promise another gentler way. He would try to improve rural life by guaranteeing peasants their much-battered right to raise their own pigs and vegetables, sell them at semi-free markets, and perhaps even get softer jobs in new, small rural factories.

Chinese refugees and emigrants interviewed here who have lived both in rural and urban China say they wonder if this will win over China's 700 million peasants. Chinese farm production has been sluggish in the last few years and their complaints have sometimes been loud. They appear to sense that they will always suffer worse working conditions than the more privileged minority in the cities. Some of them remeber better times.

"The leading poor peasant in the village I was in told me something," said one Chinese youth who later came here. "He said that the early 1950s, after land was taken from landlords and distributed to poorer peasants but before it was collectivized, that to him was the golden age for the Chinese peasant. And that was a man who represented the base of Mao Tse-tung's support."

Two sociologists, William L. Parish of the University of Chicago and Marter K. Whyte of the University of Michigan, have concluded from interviews with former residents of 63 different villages in Kwangtung Province that urban incomes remain about twice as high as rural earnings.

"An average worker in a state factory in Canton (the capital of Kwangtung) will make about 55 yuan ($30) per month and receive fringe benefits, such as free medical care and a pension. He will work out of the weather and receive a fixed monthly salary," the two sociologists say in a soon-to-be-published book.

"In the Kwangtung countryside, in contrast, the average able-bodied male will receive only about 25 yuan ($14) per month including income in cash and kind from both the collective and private sector," referring to income from sale of pigs or vegetables raised on private plots.

Medical care for the average peasant "will be only partially subsidized, and with a few rare exceptions he will receive no pension," they write.

The gap is great enough to make young peasants want to leave their homes, and to lead city youth sent to farms after high school to find any way possible to get back to factory or teaching jobs.

"Many of the youth one interviews in Hong Kong have come there not out of any desire to escape communism but simply out of a desire for an urban job. If they could have done so, they would have preferred to go to Canton," Parish and White said.

The Chinese government restrictions against rural inhabitants flocking to cities are simply more efficient than the British border patrols in Hong Kong.

Some young refugees here say they accept this assessment of their motives. But Tang Nien-ching, the south China youth who saw his friends try to buy factory places with vitamins, disagrees. "Many people like me decided we had to leave China altogether because the restrictions, in city or country, were too great. We wanted more freedom," Tang said. His real name is not used to avoid difficulty to family members still in China.

Tang acknowledged that he represents a small minority. Other rural and urban Chinese have strong commitments to their communites, families or to communism that will keep from leaving.

In the 1950s, the party attempted to use those strong family ties to limit what was then a great if temporary movement of people from rural to urban jobs. Many men selected for jobs in heavy industry were not permitted to bring wives and children.

A writer of that period said that if the state had to pay for housing, food and services for so many dependents, the sum would be so "colossal that we might as well shelve our five-year plans and forget about socialism."

The party restricted movement in the cities by keeping careful track of grain ration distribution in urban neighborhoods and of work permits. Parish and Whyte say that as a result, 90 per cent of rural young males still live in their home villages compared to Nationalist Chinese-held Taiwan, where more than half the young men have left for the city.

In the relaxed atmosphere of the post-Mao era, however, the Chinese have begun to admit that the effort to keep city youth sent to farms from returning to urban life has been less than totally successful.

Peking still appeals for young city people to spend time in the countryside but many of these youths - the lucky minority who have gotten high school educations - are told this will be for limited periods only.

The official New China News Agency said recently that 6 million of 16 million youths have already been transferred to "industry, communications, trade, culture, education and other departments." The annoucements for the new national college entrance examination indicated that many of those still in the countryside would also be leaving. They were encouraged to seek university places in a new drive to train technicians who can build the economy. There is less talk now of class struggle or eliminating income differences by fiat.

Left behind to do the dawn-to-dusk farmwork are the vast majority of Chinese youth who were born on farms and will never leave them.