The wallposter campaign for human rights in China has spread from Peking to several other major Chinese cities, with Shanghai holding a huge rally yesterday despite government-imposed limits on the campaign in Peking.
Foreign travelers reaching here today said 10,000 people joined a rally supporting democracy and modernization near Shanghai's waterfront yesterday, indicating a new outburst of ferment in China's largest city more than a week after rallies were banned in Peking. The travelers said wallposters had gone up in Shanghai, Tientsin, Nanking, Wuhan, Chungking, Canton and Shihchiachuang attracting several onlookers.
"I think there is a big disagreement in the [Communist] party over how far to go," said one American traveler who speaks Chinese and saw dozens of Chinese officials these past three weeks.
The government contnued its gradual revision of Chinese history under the late chairman Mao Tse-tung by signaling the rehabilitation of an old Mao foe, former defense minister Peng Teh-huai. Peng, purged in 1959 for criticizing Mao's economic policies and now rumored to be dead, was mentioned favorably for the first time in 20 years in an official Peking Radio broadcast monitored here.
A group of anonymous wallposter writers in Peking continued to test the limits of the reamarkable outpouring of democratic sentiment with an appeal to President Carter "to pay attention to the state of human rights in China." The poster was put up and torn down Thursday, put up again yesterday and torn down shortly afterward by a man who argued loudly with Chinese onlookers trying to read it.
Foreign diplomats in Peking reached by telephone today said the wallposter campaign seemed to have quieted down there, with fewer people going out in the freezing winter air.Chinese seem to support several recent official statements that the campaign should not interfere with day-to-day work, but talking and writing about democracy and previous mistakes of the government seems to remain a favorite a off-hour pastime for many, and it is now spreading to other parts of the country.
"Everywhere we talking to students about democracy and electing their own leaders. It was really exciting and encouraging," said Jan Berris, an official of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations who just completed a tour of six Chinese cities.
Another traveler said he noticed that officials used code words to indicate their doubts or enthusiasm about what people were saying in wallposters and rallies.
"If they thought things were going a bit too far they would talk about 'stability and unity." If they liked what was going on they talked about 'the Tienanmen incident,'" he said.
The Tienanmen incident was a violent demonstration in Peking's central square two years ago by Chinese who supported an increase in individual living standards. The riot was crushed by Politburo leders who called for more political loyalty to Mao and less emphasis on material incentives.
After Mao's death, other leaders favoring economic development took power. An offical decision announced last month vindicating the Tienanmen rioters touched off the wallposter campaign calling for further reforms of government policy and offical recognition of popular needs.
Travelers said the large central Chinese city of Wuhan had launched a wallposter campaign dealing with its own version of the Tienanmen incident. This was the temporary kidnaping in July 1967 of an envoy from a radical Peking faction sent to discipline conservative worker groups in the city. Several Wuhan wallposters indicated that the kidnapers, who have been officially declared counter-revolutionaries in the past, had also been officially vindicated.
Another Wuban wallposter called for formation of an informal group to study the social siences, and reminded readers that the Chinese constitution guarantees "freedom of speech, correspondence, the press, assembly [and] association."
Berris, on her fifth trip to China, said she was startled to find people in Wuhan and elsewhere "just talking endlessly about all sorts of things in the street I've always found the Chinese people warm and receptive, but this time they were more so."
Many of the wallposters seen by travelers in outlying cities seemed to deal with personal grievances and abuses committed by former Chinese leaders like Mao's wife, Chiang Ching, and her "Gang of Four." Wisitors to Shanghai over the weekend saw a 27-page poster titled "I accuse," recounting the author's political troubles since 1966. An 11-page challenge to the poster went up Saturday night, but had been torn down by Sunday noon, leaving the 27-page crtique of the political system untouched.
David Cohen, president of the American citizens, lobbying organization Common Cause, said he witnessed the huge Shanghai rally Sunday. He said it appeared to be an unofficial gathering to encourage the drive for more modernization and more popular involvement in government, a policy officially sanctioned by such Chinese leaders as Vice Chairman Teng Hsiaoping.
Similar rallies in Peking two weeks ago were stopped after being widely reported by resident foreign corrtespondents. Government officials indicated they Feared that criticism of Mao at some rallies had gone too far and that foreign investors vital to China's economic development might begin to wonder if China was entering another period of political instability.
Cohen said Chinese he spoke to responded enthusiastically when he told them he worked for an organization that "tries to correct government abuses of power and get the government to do things it doesn't want to do. It was a great connection point."
The controversy swirling around the open appeal to President Carter in a Peking wallposter seemed to indicate continued unease about foreign involvement in the ongoing debate among Chinese about their political system.
The poster that went up in Peking briefly Thursday and again Sunday said: "In the process toward industrialization in China, we want also to accelerte China's movement toward a positive and effective human rights policy, because up until now the human rights situation in China does not compare well with the rest of the world."
The poster writers, signing themselves "the human rights group," told Carter, "We think that you should even more so protest against successful oppression because successful oppression is even more fearful and even more detestable than unsuccessful oppression."
The poster indicated that Chinese in Peking have been listening to shortwave foreign broadcast reports of developments like Carter's recent remarks on human rights.
Another poster attacking the human rights wallposter Friday showed the same close touch with world news. It asked now Chinese could ask for help from the president of a country whose from of democracy permitted the Peoples Temple massacre in Guyaba. Neither Carter's remarks nor the massacre have been reported in the offical Chinese press.