Leaders of China's traumatic Cultural Revolution, including Mao Tse-tung's widow, have been charged formally with plotting to assassinate Mao and forcibly overthrow the government, torturing and imprisoning innocent people and "smearing" nearly half of the ruling Communist Party's Central Committee members, the Foreign Ministry announced tonight. p

Details of the 48-count indictment against the disgraced radicals -- some of which were revealed for the first time -- indicate how far the current government plans to go in presenting a well-documented case against the 10 defendants at their forthcoming trial.

The officials who have run China with a new pragmatism since the arrest four years ago of the so-called Gang of Four apparently hope to use the trial as a final denunciation of the years from 1966 to 1976 when rampaging youths inspired by Mao nearly threw the nation into civil war and economic chaos.

As a Nuremberg-style trial, the case is viewed by many Chinese as a form of national revenge against the top party officials who guided the sometimes savage campaign and as a kind of catharsis for the millions of bureaucrats, intellectuals and skilled workers who suffered injury, humiliation, loss of jobs and sometimes life during the Cultural Revolution.

The trial, according to Western diplomats, also could be used to shape China's political hierachy for years to come, a vehicle for the nation's dominant but aged leader, Deng Xiaoping, to cement support for his pragmatic economic and foreign policies.

A primary victim of that strategy could be party Chairman Hua Guofeng, the only surviving Chinese leader whose career benefited during the Cultural Revolution. Hand-picked by Mao, he is seen as a possible rallying point for disgruntled Army officers and old-time bureaucrats who oppose Deng's emphasis on material incentives to modernize the economy and an opening to the West for technical assistance.

Deng, 76, already has moved to install energetic, progressive men in the top ranks of the government and party, including newly appointed Premier Zhao Ziyang and party General Secretary Hu Yaobang.

Known for his keen sense of prevailing political winds, Hua has generally backed Deng's policies in public since Deng returned with suspicion in some party circles because of his role as minister of security in the early 1970s, when police rounded up an imprisoned many of today's leaders.

Although the portions of the indictment released tonight make no mention of Hua, doubts about his future have surfaced recently because of articles in the party press questioning the legitimacy of his appointment as party chairman four years ago and the expulsion from the party of Kang Sheng, the late secret police chief who is said to have been close to Hua.

The statement of charges made public tonight also carefully avoided any blame on Mao, who mastermined the Cultural Revolution as a way of injecting revolutionary zeal into the party structure.Because Mao remains popular in China today, especially among the peasants who make up 80 percent of the population, current leaders are said to be wary of turning the charges against China's revolutionary father.

Instead, Mao is named as the target of an assassination plot by his wife, Jiang Qing, her radical associates in the Gang of Four and senior military men led by then-defense minister Lin Biao, who reportedly died in an airplane crash in 1971.

Jiang Quing and her Gang associates derived their influence from Mao and have never before been accused of plotting to kill the late party chairman, who died of natural causes in 1976. Although the indictment sets our four general categories of charges, the portions released tonight detail only accusations that the radicals framed and persecuted party and state leaders. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said further details would be available later.

Parts of the indictment made available focus on charges against what it calls "the Lin Biao and Jiang Qing counterrevolutionary cliques . . . [that] worked hard in glove during the Cultural Revolution to frame and prosecute Communist Party and state leaders in a premeditated way, attempting to usurp party leadership and state power and overthrow the political power of the party dictatorship."

Among the leaders said to have been persecuted are the late premier Chou En-lai, Deng, who was purged twice during the 1960s and 1970s, and Liu Shaoqi, the late president of China who was purged in the 1960s and died of an untreated illness in 1969.

In the section on Liu, Jiang Qing and two radical associates are accused of staging a rally without authorization for "repudiating and struggling against" the late president. Liu and his wife were physically attacked and their house searched and ransacked, the indictment points out.

Later, Jiang Qing directed a team that "extorted confessions by torture and rigged up false evidence to vilify Liu and his wife," the charges read.

The Gang is also accused of sending a message in 1974 to Mao falsely accusing Deng and Chou of plotting to usurp power."

Foreign Ministry officials said the trial, which has been delayed for several weeks, should start in the near future. The charges carry a possible penalty of death, although party officials have been quoted as saying the capital punishment would not be imposed on the defendants.

Jiang Qing, a former film actress who married Mao in the 1930s, became the most notorious member of the group that guided the young Red Guards, which destroyed property and engaged in pitched battles throughout the country. Her main associates are Yao Wenyuan, an ideologist, Zhang Chunqiao, a former party vice chairman, and Wang Hongwen, a Shanghai textile worker who rose to second vice chairman of the party.