In a startling signal of a new era in its foreign policy, China last night called an end to its longtime bombardment of Taiwanese-held offshore islands and televised for the first time a favorable film about Taiwan.
The transfer of U.S. recognition from Taiwan to mainland China took effect at one minute past midnight, Washington time. Shortly before that, the government here issued an unprecedented message addressed to "compatriots in Taiwan," announcing the orders to end the shelling and calling for trade, travel and military talks leading to reunification of China with the estranged island province.
The anti-Communist Taiwan government has vehemently rejected overtures from Peking and is not expected to welcome this one. But the message from the standing committee of China's National People's Congress makes a number of proposals that could lead to negotiations between the two sides in the distant future.
"Our state leaders have firmly declared that they will respect the status quo on Taiwan and the opinions of people in all walks of life there and adopt reasonable policies and measures in settling the question of reunification so as not to cause the people of Taiwan any losses," the statement said.
The statement, like other recent signs of Peking conciliation toward its bitter foes on Taiwan, also appears designed to ease American fears that the U.S. diplomatic and military pullout from Taiwan might leave the island open to armed invasion.
In an exchange of warmly worded New Year's messages, President Carter and Chinese Premier Hua Kuofoog hailed the establishment of relations.
In his message, Carter said: "Today, after a generation of isolation from each other, the United States of America and the People's Republic of China establish full diplomatic relations between our governments.
"The cause of world peace will be served by this historic act of reconciliation. The estrangement of our peoples has sometimes producled misunderstanding, confrontation and enmity. That era is behind us."
Hua called normalization "an historic event in our bilateral relations which not only accords with the fundamental interests of the Chinese and American peoples, but will exert a favorable influence on the international situation."
Chines television foreshadowed today's events by screening a half-hour travelogue last night on the scenic beauties of Taiwan that made no reference to politics. It was followed by the first official U.S. film ever shown on Chinese television, a series of short documentaries on American life prepared by the U.S. International Communication Agency.
The Taiwan travelogue, which included a few scenes of bustling city streets in Taipei, appeared to be the most favorable view of the island and its society ever presented the Chinese people by their official media. The government message was followed by an intensely nationalistic appeal to pride in China's history and cultural heritage. It made little mention of the gulf between the economic systems in the two parts of China.
"From the day when Taiwan was regretfully separated from the motherland in 1949, we have not been able to communicate with or visit each other... Relatives have been unable to have a reunion," the message said. "Every Chinese, in Taiwan or on the mainland, has a compelling responsibility for the survival, growth and prosperity of the Chinese nation.
"If we do not quickly set about ending this disunity so that our motherland is runified at an early date, what can we say to our ancestors or to our descendents? This sentiment is shared by all: and who among the descendents of the yellow employer (the legendary first Chinese ruler) wishes to be branded a traitor of all ages?"
"The Chinese government has ordered the People's Liberation Army to stop the bombardment of Quemoy and other islands as from today," the message said. It added that "a state of military confrontation" still exists but "should be ended through discussion between the government of the People's Republic of China and the Taiwa authorities." The message suggested that other contacts could proceed after the military situation was more secure.
An accompanying announcement by Chinese Defense Minister Hsu Hsiangchien ordered a stop to shelling of Quemoy and other island "in order to convenience civilians and armymen" who wish to visit the mainland to ease the way for shipping and production in the Taiwan strait.
For several years the Chinese have conducted an almost gentlemanly bombardment that usually occurred on prearranged alternate days, resulting in few known casualties. Talwan has about 80,000 troops stationed on the islands, just a few hundred yards off-shore, while Taiwan itself is 90 miles from the mainland.
It could not be learned here if Taiwan would end its own occasional bombardment of the mainland. In the past, Taiwan has reciprocated in temporary truces.
A complete truce would end active hostilities that several times have become an issue in American politics, as policymakers have debated whether the small islands were worth defending with American arms and lives.
In recent months some Taiwan officials have expressed private interest in Peking's new concern with democracy and its use of the kind of foreign investment that has helped Taiwan prosper.
Taiwanese argue that China will someday revert to its former dogmatic socialist policies. In the meantime, however, covert trade in herbs and spices through Hong Kong has increased between the two sides. Taiwan newspapers have encouraged Taiwanese students to make contact with mainland students abroad, if only to win them over to the anti-Communist viewpoint.
The Chinese message last night referred to "Taiwan authorities," a departure from the past Chinese practice of calling the Taiwan leaders the "Chiang bandit clique." The Taiwanese government is headed by President Chinag Ching-Kuo, son of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek who led Nationalist Chinese forces in a 22-year civil war with Chinese Communists until he was forced to retreat to Taiwan in 1949.
The message congratulated the Nationalists for holding to the principle that Taiwan was part of China and opposing "an independent Taiwan."
The Chinese capital ended a year of extraordinary political and social change last night with a number of balls and dances, at which some young Chinese -- in their usual drab padded clothing -- tried out the latest disco steps. A few residents of Peking even braved the bitter cold to read the latest wallposter appeals for government reform.
The American film shown on television last night included stories of an elderly woman doctor at work, a canoe trip in Arkansas and two state legislators who are married to each other. The Chinese, in the midst of a debate over how democratic their society should be, saw the two legislators canvassing voters and acting on bills in a state assembly.
"They said they wanted something for this special occasion," said a U.S. spokesman. He said the Chinese requested a film on American life shortly after President Carter's decision announced Dec. 15 to normalize relations with Peking beginning today.
The spokesman said the Taiwan travelogue shown last night was not supplied by the U.S. government. A Chinese spokesman said he did not know where it had been obtained. The Chinese could have received it through a third party from one of Taiwan's overseas tourist offices. The film's soundtrack seemed to have been left intact.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has invited 27 American journalists here to watch the celebrations of normalization scheduled for today and to a two-week tour of the country.
Later today Chinese Vice Party Chairman Teng Hsiao-ping is scheduled to make his first visit to the U.S. mission here and toast the opening of full relations with the mission chief, Leonard Woodcock. A series of meetings between Teng and Woodcock early in December led to the final agreement on normalization. Teng is scheduled to visit Washington in late January.
As part of the general blossoming of foreign culture here, Chinese moviegoers will get a more satirical view of American life and progress with the opening today of the Charles Chaplin film "Modern Times" in local theatres.
Wallposters also continued to draw clusters of Chinese, perhaps a measure of how little fresh reading material is available here. One poster reported that former mayor Peng Chen, in political disgrace for more than a decade, had returned to the city and would get a new job soon. Other posters complained of working conditions for youths in the countryside. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, FINAL SALUTE -- The flag at the Nationalist Chinese embassy here was lowered for the last time at sunset yesterday as civilian and military embassy personnel stood at attention and many onlookers were moved to tears., Photos by Larry Morris -- The Washington Post; Picture 3, Students gather near Peking wallposter with the word "love" in English and Pro-American message in Chinese., Associated Press