Newspaper articles, private conversations and wallposters here have revealed sharp disagreement inside and outside the Chinese government over the harsh sentence handed out a week ago at the unprecedented trial of a prominent political dissident.
Two articles yesterday in the Guamgming Daily, an official publication catering to intellectuals, seem to call into question the need to quash "Independent thought." One article even used with approval the two Chinese characters that form the title of te unofficial magazine edited by Wei Jingsheng, the dissident sentenced last week to 15 years in prison.
At a theatrical performance this weekend, one foreign diplomat said, the officially sanctioned young heroes of a 1976 Peking riot were being beaten on stage, when an actor playing a policeman called one "just another counterrevolutionary." A Chinese man in the audience said audibly "Just like Wei Jingsheng."
Chinese anf foreigners here say such disagreements -- as well as agreement -- with the result of the Wei trial has been expressed openly in the past week, a measure of the relatively relaxed atmosphere that survives despite the unexpectedly severe sentence against Wei.
Wei, 29, an Army veteran and electrician at the Peking zoo, was arrested in late March after writing a series of antigovernment articles and giving information he had collected about casualties in the Sino-Vietnamese war to an unnamed foreigner. The stiff sentence surprised many observers for two reasons: First, because of several recent official articles condoning criticism of the government and, second, because the information passed to the foreigner seemed innocuous and had begun to be disseminated widely at the time.
"The decision is controversial. I think a lot of people are upset about it," said one foreigner with unusual access to Chinese here. "A lot of people think it is just using the old counerrevolutionary bugaboo after indicating the government was going to be more enlightened."
Chinese have told some foreigners that they are convinced the verdict was arranged well in advance of the Oct. 16 six-hour trial, at which the decision was announced by a judge and two nonlawyer staff members called assessors. Some Chinese with connections in the official New China News Agency said stories about the trial had been drafted well in advance.
Foreign analysts here said they found particularly significant the timing and wording of articles in yesterday's Guangming daily. A front-page article emphasized the theme that "without political democracy, there will be no four modernizations," a favorite slogan of Chinese intellectuals who have supported the lifting of restrictions on wallposters and unofficial magazines like the one edited by Wei.
After Wei's arrest, his magazine, Explorations, ceased publication, but returned to life in August with a series of articles calling for his release. The magazine's last issue was published two weeks before his trial. A small notice this week on Peking's main wallposter area, Democracy Wall, said the magazine's old mailing address was no longer correct and that a new address would be announced later.
Workers at the office of another unofficial magazine, The April 5th Forum, said today they had had no trouble with the authorities and had not heard of any other unofficial publications suffering difficulties. The April 5th Forum published a long wallposter Tuesday criticizing the Wei verdict.
On Sunday, Theme Magazine put on Democracy Wall a long transcript of what appeared to be a tape recording of the Wei trial.
According to the transcript, Wei told the court that "those who won't allow criticism of Marxism are not Marxists. Everybody has the right to follow what he thinks are correct thoughts. One cannot use the law to impose one's beliefs on others. . . . The contemporary political current is the current of democracy. Those conservatives who oppose it are the counterrevolutionaries."
According to the transcript, Wei said he often talked to friendly foreigners as many Chinese government critics here still do. He said in February the Sino-vietnamese war was a natural topic of conversation, "but I did not know that anything I told foreigners constituted national secrets."
There was no word today of any more dissident trials being planned. The trial of a second dissident, protest march organizer Fu Yuehua, was recessed Oct. 17. Some Chinese say her charge of rape against a former supervisor -- labeled criminal libel by the trial prosecutor -- may be supported by new evidence.
Some Chinese also report that officials inside the government have supported wallposter criticism of Chairman Hua Guofeng for commenting on the need to convict the Gang of Four, led by Mao Tsetung's widow Jiang Quing, before a trial has been held.