For the first time in two years, Chinese Communist Party Chairman Hua Guofeng has openly attacked key policies of the group of veteran officials now running China in an apparent attempt to recover some of his dwindling power.

Hua's attack on material incentives, a key part of the economic program being pursued by influential Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, indicates a feeling that Deng may be vulnerable, at least on this issue. Chinese factories and offices have been plagued by a decline in morale, which clumsy efforts at paying cash bonuses have not been able to solve.

Hua's recent speech at an Army political work conference was reported on the front page of today's People's Daily in the latest in what has been an unusal number of recent public appearances. Chinese for months have exchanged rumors that Hua might have to relinquish his post as government premier -- which he holds in addition to the party chairmanship -- to one of Deng's proteges in the government.

According to the New China news agency, Hua told the group of Army political officers that "no good results would be achieved if undue emphasis was placed on economic methods and material rewards while political work and efforts to raise the people's ideological awareness were relaxed."

Sources here said Hua's remarks were particularly provocative because they followed a recent secret national conference on material incentives that reaffirmed the government's commitment to more bonuses for the best workers. Instead, Hua said, "Hard work means developing the revolutionary spirits of serving the people and dedication to the emancipation of mankind."

These words echo the views of Hua's late political patron, Mao Tsetung, who installed Hua as premier and put him in line for the party chairmanship before his death in September 1976. Deng, whom most Chinese expected would become premier that year, was instead forced into temporary retirement. Since Deng's return to power in 1977, Hua has appeared to cooperate with his older and now more influential colleague, but Deng seemed determined to gradually remove Hua from key policy making and leave him as a figurehead at the top of the party.

Two years ago, at a science conference at which Deng also spoke, Hua raised in public Maoist notions that mass political loyalty to communist ideals, rather than the talents of the best workers and thinkers, would be the key to building a stronger China.

Since then he has not challenged openly Deng's commitment to incentives for the brightest and hardest working members of the society. Hua has appeared to be so careful to keep his thoughts to himself that some analysts here speculated that the publication of his attack on material incentives might have been the work of enemies seeking to discredit him as a Maoist dissident and hasten his political decline.

Any statements by Hua criticizing material incentives would be seen by many Chinese as an attack on the man considered the most likely candidate for the premiership if Hua relinquished the post -- Vice Premier Zhao Ziyang. Zhao has only recently been brought to Peking after instituting a number of Western-style economic experiments, including bonuses, in Sichuan, China's largest province and Deng's birthplace.

Hua raised the severe morale problems in Chinese factories, particularly among young workers who appear to see few material rewards for themselves and little chance for advancement.

"Education in revolutionary outlook on life should be conducted among them to help solve the question they have, such as their ideals, their future and morale," Hua said. He referred to "training people of the new socialist type," a Maoist concept not heard often in China these days.

"Material rewards must be given due attention," he said, "But they must be combined with moral encouragement."