Chinese Vice Chairman Ten Hsiao-ping responded for the first time today to Peking's growing protest movement with an endosement of "stability and unity," a significant sign of official concern over wall posters appealing for democracy in China.
While Chinese and foreigners in Peking continued to hold extraordinary street corner seminars on human rights, Teng attempted to quiet reports of a power struggle by defending the reputation of Communist Party Chairman and Premier Hua Kuo-feng in a lengthy interview with visiting Japanese politicians.
Teng said Hua was not responsible for an unpopular decision to suppress an April 1976 demonstration in Tienanmen Square that led to a temporary defeat for Teng and his pragmatic social and economic policies. Teng told the Japanese that two April 1976 Central Committe resolutions that censured Teng and promoted Hua might have to be modified, however, the Japanese news agency Kyodo reported from Peking.
Some observers saw this somewhat ambiguous statement as leaving open the possibility that Hua might be forced to give up at least one of his top positions, but Teng's remarks and a later report by the official New China News Agency gave no further clarification.
An official New China News Agency report of the 90-minute Teng interview chose only to quote statements by Teng extolling hard work and scientific progress, rather than political debate and protest.
"At present, the whole China, from the central government down to the grassroots, are concentrating their energies on the four modernizations," the Chinese news agency quoted Teng as saying. "Stability and unity have prevailed in China since the downfall of the Gang of Four," a dogmatic Politburo clique headed by the wife of the late chairman Mao Tse-tung.
The New China News Agency statement, which is likely to be broadcast and printed throughout China as well as abroad, appeared designed to warn Chinese not to become too absorbed in protest against authoritarian rule at the expense of their work. Teng probably also wished to assure foreign investors now beginning to plunge millions of dollars into the Chinese economy that the country would not be allowed to return to the political strife of the last 10 years of Mao's life, from 1966 to 1976.
Wall posters bitterly attacking former Mao bodyguard Wang Tung-hsing, now number five in the hierachy with special responsibilities for internal security, continued to go up in Peking, residents of the Chinese capital reported. One Poster called him an "insect" who "brought disaster to the masses." One diplomat reached by telephone indicated that Chinese he met in the streets this weekend told him personally of their affection for Teng and distrust of Wang and some other current leaders.
Such conversations mark an unprecendented departure for Chinese, who, during much of the last 30 years, have been reluctant to discuss even the time of day with foreigners they have met on the street.
In telephone interviews, several foreign residents of Peking said they were being mobbed by Chinese and deluged with friendly questions whenever they appeared at the four or five places in the city where wall posters have concentrated. One diplomat said a Chinese crowd cheered loudly today when an Agence France-Presse correspondent identified himself to a group of wall poster readers.
"Suddenly we all feel like celebraties," said one Peking correspondent.
Much of the protest has come in response to a recent official decision to clear hundreds of people arrested after the landmark April 5, 1976 riot in Tienanmen Square. The demonstrators had beat up militia and turned over cars after wreaths honoring the late Premier Chou En-lai, like Teng an advocate of worker bonuses and increased living standards, had been removed prematurely from Tienanmen.
Peking protesters now say the government should go even further. They want all officials responsible for suppressing the demonstration publicly identified and a more democratic system instituted that would prevent such suppression in the future.
When asked how they knew so much about the events in the West, many Chinese say they managed to see copies of the Reference News, a Chinese-language digest of world news supposedly restricted to government officials.
Chinese also said they regularly listened to the Voice of America and to the British Broadcasting Company on shortwave radio. Many said they preferred VOA, because of its news broadcasts in "special English" during which the announcer speaks at half speed and avoids difficult words. China also does not appear to be regularly jamming VOA's Chinese language broadcast, which could be heard clearly by a reporter who visited Canton earlier this month.
According to the Japanese news service report, Teng told visiting members of Japan's Democratic Socialist Party that the current wall-poster campaign had official approval. He noted that the right to protest through wallposters was guaranteed by the Chinese constitution.
Nevertheless, the Japanese news service said Teng emphasized - as did the official Chinese report of the interview - that the wallposter campaign did not mean China was unstable. Teng said all Chinese leaders were cooperating to strengthen unity, according to the Japanese account.
Although Peking all poster writers have been particularly critical of Mao or purging Teng and suppressing demonstrations, Teng told the Japanese tha the late party chairman could not be entirely blamed or the bad decisions made after the Tienanmen riot. He said Mao, who died five months later, was in poor health at the time of the riot and was only seeing members of the dogmatic Gang of Four, his wife and three top officials from Shanghai.
Hua, who at the time of the riot was acting premier, was also cut off from the decision making at the time of the riot, Teng reportedly told the Japanese. A member of the Gang of Four was the only top leader to see Mao before he decided to punish Teng and the rioters, Teng said, and Hua did not have a chance to see Mao or find out what Mao had been told about the demonstration.
Teng said he owed much to Mao. He said the chairman, who removed Teng from power twice in his career, still protected him and foiled an attempt by the Gang of Four and the late Vice Chairman Lin Piao to kill Teng in the late 1960s.