Peking's 11-day-old campaign of anti-Mao wallposters and prodemocracy rallies has begun to cool down in the face of caution from party leaders, winter weather and lack of organization.
Foreign residents of Peking reached by telephone said gatherings yesterday and today to discuss reforms in China's authoritarian political system drew considerably fewer people than the 5,000 to 10,000 who rallied on Peking's streets and in Tienanmen Square Monday and Tuesday nights. A wallposter put up by some youthful organizers said there would be no more rallies in order to preserve "stability and unity" but that everyone should maintain the spirit of democracy.
"There's still lots of excitement," said one foreigner who has attended some rallies, "but there is a lack of focus and no movement is going to last too long if it doesn't have strong official support."
Since the movement's hero, Communist Party Vice Chairman Teng Hsiao-ping, issued a call earlier in the week for stability and unity, foreigners attending the seemingly spontaneous street seminars have noticed the Chinese speaking with more restraint. Speakers and wallposters talk more often now of "democracy within discipline" and voice support for the entire Chinese leadership, not just Teng.
Last week and early this week many Chinese told foreigners they met in the streets of their hope that Teng would assume the job of premier now held by party Chairman Hua Kuofeng. Wallposters and some impromptu speakers attacked Politburo members like internal security expert and former Mao bodyguard Wang Tunghsing. Now there are more cries of support for Hua and the whole Central Committee.
Many posters criticizing Wang, Peking commander Chen Hsi-lien, former Peking mayor Wu Teh and other leaders thought to have been close to the late chairman Mao Tse-tung are still displayed on walls, however. One poster, which went up last night on the popular "wall of democracy" alongside the Avenue of Eternal Peace, criticized Teng himself for trying to dampen criticism of Mao.
Wallposters have chided Mao for purging men like Teng and aborting pragmatic policies like wage increases in the last years of his life. Teng's statements earlier this week praising Mao's overall contribution to China seemed designed to discourage such talk. Last night's poster writer complained that "you can clamp down silence again on the people but that won't solve anything."
Many Chinese, particularly young people, have enjoyed the unusual taste of free public expression and contact with foreigners that they have had in the last few days. The experience may have lasting effects on the lives of many of them and unpopular decisions or signals of encouragement from the party leadership could set off another explosion of protests and debate.
Nonetheless, foreign residents of the Chinese capital interviewed recently think the campaign will gradually lose enthusiasm, and perhaps come to a complete end if the party leadership announces the results of a high-level meeting thought to be going on in Peking's Great Hall of the People. Both foreign analysts and Chinese street-corner orators say they expect the leadership to rehabiliate the reputations of many old Mao foes, like former defense minister Peng Tehhuai and former Peking mayor Peng Chen, who are popular for having tried to stop Mao campaigns that disrupted the economy.
It is not clear exactly what sort of high-level meeting is going on. American columnist Robert Novak reported Tuesday that Teng told him in an interview Monday that the Communist Party Central Committee was meeting. This would be only the third time that body has met since August 1977.
Teng also hinted publicly that the more than 300 member group was meeting or had recently met. In an officially published statement, Teng said the Central Committee had approved a decision announced two weeks ago to declare a 1976 riot in Tienanmen Square to be a revolutionary event.
On Monday, the official People's Daily began a regular column of reactions to a month-old proposal by a soldier that party officials be democraticaly elected. The newspaper said it received nearly 1,000 letters in 10 days reacting to the idea. Apparently most of the letters were favorable. The Chinese seem to be asking, however, not for totally free elections without the Communist Party's traditional right to pick the candidates, but simply for the right to veto unpopular candidates, particularly party officials brought in from other places to replace officials who grew up in the locality.
New wallposters today, including a self-proclaimed wallposter newspaper with announcements of coming issues, suggested reforms such as an independent judiciary, guaranteed secret ballot and guaranteed welfare benefits for the unemployed.