Several key members of China's ruling Communist Party Politburo were sharply criticized during recent high-level Peking meetings and significant personnel shakeups continue, Communist sources here report.

Local publications drawing on contacts inside China and judged to be reliable by foreign analysts say party leaders singled out for particular scorn include the hitherto fast-rising Politburo member Chi Teng-kuei. Chi's optimistic report on farm production and his alleged responsibility for a recent rail disaster brought a severe rebuke from the controlling Politburs faction headed by Vice Chairman Teng Hsiao-ping.

The Communist sources here have provided a highly unusual and candid look at the sometimes emotional debate going on at the highest and most secretive levels of the Chinese party. The personnel shifts show significant new gains for pragmatic party veterans who suffered politically in Chairman Mao Tse-tung's later years at the expense of ideologically orthodox Politburo members whose careers prospered under Mao.

The pragmatic faction apparently has decided to use calculated leaks to the outside as part of its campaign against the Mao-era holdovers, leading to the recent revelations in the press here.

The pro-Peking Hong Kong publication Tunghsiang said Chi was called a "careerist" and a "complete opportunist" during the meetings in November and December. The Communist sources also reported criticism of and loss of influence by other Politburo members, including secret police expert Wang Tung-hsing, peasant hero Chen Yung-kuei and Peking army commander Chen Hsi-lien, while the group led by Teng continued to gain power.

Despite continued praise of the late chairman Mao in the official press, the publications here said Politburo members directly attacked Mao in the closed door meetings for the excessive political campaigns he led in the last two decades of his life.

The Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao, quoting Chinese sources, said new fifth-ranking party leader Chen Yun told one meeting: "Chairman Mao would have been remembered as the great leader of the Chinese people if he had died in 1956... If he had died in 1966, his achievements would still have been considered great, though discounted a bit. But, he died in 1976, so what can we say?"

Wan Li, Anhwei provincial chief, a former railroad minister and a close ally of Teng, mentioned a recent train wreck in Chi's home province of Honan that reportedly cost more than 100 lives. "A man with high rank here should be responsible for that," he said. According to Ming Pao's sources, someone asked if it was Chi. After hesitating a moment, Wan nodded and Chi turned pale.

In his agricultural report, Chi praised China's progress in feeding nearly one quarter of the world's population on only five percent of the world's arable land. But this has been a mediocre crop year and other Politburo members sharply criticized the report, Tunghsiang reported.

"You said fertilizer output increased 19 times since liberation [in 1949]... and that power supplied to rural areas increased 157.5 times, yet production has only increased one and one-half times since liberation, so what is there to be praised?" one of Chi's colleagues asked, according to the Communist sources.

Some members of Teng's group, many of whom were purged during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, referred to the fact that Chi's career had prospered during that period. They charged him with being responsible for political violence during the late 1960s and said he was not fit to continue to supervise the current reform of China's legal codes, the sources said. They said Chi, in response, asked Chairman Hau Kuo-feng to relieve him of his responsibilities so he could make a self-criticism.

Wang Jen-chung has been designated a vice premier specializing in agricultural affairs to supersede both Chi and Chen Yung-kuei, who had been pricipally responsible for foreign matters, Communist sources said.

Hua, once thought to be politically allied with Chi and several other of the recently criticized Politburo members, has not lost his position at the head of the party, government and army. But a continuing series of personnel shifts has left the party apparatus directly under him almost entirely under the control of Teng's men.

Hu Yao-bang, Teng's closest aide, now has the commanding positions of Central Committee secretary general and propaganda department director. He has relinquished his position as Central Committee organization department director to Sung Jen-chi-ung, another Teng ally who was purged during the Cultural Revolution. Sung has been head of the Seventh Ministry of Machine Building, which builds missiles and other military equipment.

The director of the general office of the Central Committee, which oversees vital party files, has apparently had his responsibilities reduced. The job has been awarded to another Teng ally, Yao Yi-ling, who up to now has been commerce minister. The general office appeared to control most Central Committee staff when the previous director, Wang Tung-hsing, held the job. But the secretary general now supersedes the general office and Wang appears to be have completely moved out of party staff affairs, although he retains a position as sixth-ranked party leader.

Some Communist sources here said Wang has also lost control of the army unit responsible for the security of party leaders, the 8341 unit. Wang had operated the unit as part of the party's internal espionage system, but some sources here say Army Deputy Chief of Staff Yang Yung has taken over.

Wang has been severely criticized in Peking wallposters for violating human rights. One report here quoted another Teng ally, Army Gen. Hsu Shihyu, as referring to someone in the leadership "waiting for a chance to counterattack" and bring back Mao's more extreme policies, such as rapid promotions for youth. The source indicated the reference was to Wang.

Yao has also been allied with former Peking mayor Peng Chen. Peng is one of the most famous of the Cultural Revolution victims and may be about to return to power. Another important Peking figure who prospered in the Cultural Revolution, Army Commander Chen Hsi-lein, has apparently been relegated to handling sports matters. Lately he has not even been very evident there.

The party's theoretical journal, Red Flag, criticized earlier for not endorsing Teng's new pragmatic policies fast enough, has a new editor, Hus Chih-Wei, concurrently the editor of People's Daily, the sources here say.