Two longtime American residents of China have sharply attacked the "rotten soul" of the U.S. economic system in a concerted Chinese press campaign to dim the rosy glow from Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping's (Teng Hsiao-ping) visit to Washington.

Joan Hinton and Erwin Engst, a married couple who made well-publicized lecture tours of the United States in 1975, 1977 and 1978, denounced the "hypocrisy" of American law and bemoaned the hard life of U.S. workers in an article for the Worker's Daily News in Peking.

The article, printed in Chinese, appears to reflect great Chinese governmental concern over the affect the glittering portrait of American life given to Chinese workers during the Deng visit had on their attitude toward their own standard of living; Chinese television, in nightly satellite broadcasts during the Deng trip, showed mostly scenes of U.S. technological triumps, streets full of cars and well-dressed people and even reported at one point that the average American family earned $34,000 a year.

The attempt to tarnish somewhat the American image, also exemplified by editorials and cartoons lampooning youths who ape Western fashions, may grow out of the Chinese government's decision not to depend too heavily on foreign investment in a new, more modest modernization scheme. U.S. Commerce Secretary Juanita Kreps, now visiting Peking, is expected to get a clearer view this week of what effect, if any, the somewhat cooler attitude toward the United States and its Taiwan policy will have on trade between the two countries.

"Young people born in the new China have never seen the old society and do not know what life is like in a capitalist society," wrote Hinton and Engst, who have lived in China since the 1940s. They take what socialism has offered for granted and feel distressed at the present low standards of living and at being assigned to work in the countryside. For this reason, they are easily taken in by the neon lights, car, high production level and advanced science and technology in the United States."

"Every American family owns a car, a refrigerator, a washing machine and many other things. These are bought on credit. People work like slaves to pay off the mortgage and keep their high standard of living. When they lose their job, they cannot keep any of these things."

Hinton is a nuclear physicist who worked at Los Alamos, N.M., on the development of the atomic bomb. She left physics and the United States, she said, because there seemed to be no way for a nuclear scientist to avoid work that led to more destruction.

"You had either to sell your soul to the establishment or quit," she wrote in an American magazine article last year. She and her husband work on a commune outside Peking, reportedly designing improved farming equipment. People who have met them say their children speak English with Chinese accents.

Hinton's brother, William, spent many years in China and wrote one of the most detailed accounts of Chinese land reform in the book "Fanshen."

The Hinton-Engst article said it was true that American youth "have been riding in cars since they were born and they all have washing machines, television sets, refrigerators and carpets at home . . . [but] when they go to school they have to worry about finding a job after graduation. When they get a job, they worry about losing it one day."

"Some of them try to forget their pessimistic thoughts and weariness of this world with the help of drugs and by indulging in lust. Some of them move to the mountains and live a life that is cut off from the world. Some of them put on outlandish clothing and fool around all day . . . Of course, there are also some progressive youth who have seen right into the rotten soul of the America capilalist system and are actively searching for the truth."

The article said racial discrimination and unemployment remain serious problems in the Untied States and people living in Washington, D.C., all know that no one dares go near Capitol Hill after dark because the place is full of hooligans and criminals." Up until the Deng visit, such comments were common in the Chinese press.

Chinese who approach American tourists in the streets often ask about the costs of the cameras, clothing and other articles they carry, and even ask about salaries in the United States. Chinese leaders appear distressed by this open interest in living standards, which they have encouraged to an extent. They now are pointing out its disadvantages.

The American couple said they delivered about 300 talks at meetings of U.S.-China People's Friendship Association chapters. Engst also "had a heart valve replaced" in an Acerican hospital last year, the article said. It praised the "high level of medical skill in the United States."

The couple complained that, particularly in comparison to China's socialized medicine, "medical expenses are really too high." Engst's hospital expenses were $17,000 for a 10-day stay, the article said.