Chinese citizens protesting bad jobs and official discrimination have disrupted government offices in several parts of the country, prompting warnings from Peking that democracy can go too far.
In what appears to be a signal of highest-level concern, the official People's Daily recently said, "A few people incited the masses to cause disturbances, storm government organs, block traffic, surround and attack officials, occupy officials' offices by force and assault and beset people."
Official radio broadcasts monitored here have reported such distrubances in Peking, Shanghai, Wuhan, Chongqing (Chungking) and in Shandong (Shantung) and Yunnan provinces. The protesters appear to be people who received hard-labor assignments or other forms of political turmoil of the Mao Tse-tung era and now hope the new government in Peking will review their cases.
Open criticism of the current government began last November with appearance of wallposters even criticizing Mao. China watchers looking for precedents had to go back to Mao's brief experiment in 1957 with letting "a hundred flowers bloom" in dissent.
When the war with Vietnam broke out Feb. 17, Chinese authorities apparently issued instructions discouraginging any public debate or criticism of the war. Foreign observers wondered if free expression on other topics might also be curtailed.
A People's Daily commentary four days later defended free expression vigorously, however, and there appears to have been no significant letup in wallposter activity in Peking.
"Some people's opinions are going to be wrong," the commentary said. "But the method of suppressing criticism is a foolish one, used by those who lack confidence in the truth. Such is the foolish tendency of some comrades who want to call in the public security department whenever someone puts up a wallposter criticizing leading comrades."
An analyst here, referring to the current disruption, called it "a crisis of rising expectations." The new government, led by veteran cadres who themselves recovered from political purges, has promised quick action in reviewing cases of people falsely accused and discriminated against, but the volume of cases and the vehemence of the aggrieved apparently has been too much.
The government appears concerned that the caseloads and the disruptions may hinder the economic progress that is needed of the current leadership is to survive.
"This sort of behavior does not benefit stability and unity or the shift of the focus of work" from politics to economic progress, the People's Daily editorial said. "It is absolutely impermissible."
The editorial acknowledged that the protesters may have been encouraged by the new government's tolerance of wallposter attacks on some of its policies and by several official articles supporting "democratic rights." However, "we cannot just have democracy and freedom without centralism and discipline," the editorial said.
It encouraged using "heart-to-heart talks" to calm protesters, taking a legal action" against those who "break the law in an evil way."
The most serious reported incidents have occurred in Shanghai, where reportedly thousands of people, including disenchanted workers and unemployed youth, stopped traffic, looted shops, surrounded a city employment office and stopped trains from leaving the local railway station for several hours in early February. Recent travelers say some demonstrations, not nearly as large or disruptive, have occurred more recently in Shanghai.
In Sichuan (Szechwan), where protests centered around the Chongqing labor bureau, an official broadcast complained that "people pay 'collective visits' with from several dozen to over 100 participants. They pay no attention to instructions or advice, they surround, attack and drag away the reception personnel.... They even have arbitrarily stormed the leadership offices and dragged out, encircled and attacked the leading persons."
In the Shandong (Shantung) capital, Jinan a broadcast alleged that some people had "engaged in fighting and criminal activities" and "peddled goods in the streets, thus blocking... traffic."
The broadcast also criticized wallposters "that spread rumors to vilify and attack people." This contradicts the official support Peking has given to wallposter writers, and suggests differences between officials over how to handle this currently popular form of expression.
The wallposter campaign in Peking often addresses different issues than do the protesters storming labor bureaus around the country. Wallposter writers in the Chinese capital often concern themselves with philosophical and political debates, instead of specific cases of administrative injustice, although there are plently of posters in Peking and elsewhere discussing such cases.