Disagreement over whether to execute Mao Tse-tung's widow, Jiang Qing, has forced postponement of a special court's verdict in her trial along with others accused of misdeeds during the Cultural Revolution, according to reliable sources.
The dispute reportedly has nothing to do with the 35 judges in the case, but is being fought in a meeting of the Communist Party's Central Committee which has been going on for more than a month, the sources say.
A faction of hard-liners is apparently holding out for the death of the defiant Jiang, who ended her testimony Dec. 29 with cries of, "It is right to rebel," and, "I am prepared to die." A second faction is said by these sources to favor a suspended death sentence for both Jiang and former Shanghai Mayor Zhang Chunqiao.
Reliable informants say the verdict and sentence were originaly scheduled to be handed down last Saturday. Many provincial observers at the trial were summoned back to Peking on that date and a Japanese television network was alerted to expect "an important transmission."
Interanl dissension, however, reportedly caused an indefinite delay which has made the date of the decision impossible to predict. There is no clear picture of how China's top leaders are divided on the issue -- despite a report last weekend that said Vice Chairmen Deng Ziaoping and Chen Yu opposed the death sentence for Jiang.
"That sounds like pretty shaky information to me," one diplomatic analyst commneted. "If Deng and Chen don't want to kill her, and the left-leaning faction obviously doesn't want to kill her, who is left on the other side of the argument? If that report was true, there would be no dispute. Clearly, there is one."
Analysis of the standoff is made more difficult because there are no identifiable memebers of the so-called leftist or Maoist faction at the meeting. Chairman Hua Guofeng, who has not been seen in public for seven weeks, has almost certainly been stripped of his post and power. And aged Vice Chairman Ye Jinaying is known to be resting at his home in the southern city of Canton.
The ultimate decision, therefore, will not be a case of Maoists pleading to save Jiang's life, but of Deng's pragmatist group agreeing on how best to proceed with the liquidation of radical remnants from the 10-year Cultural Revolution. Deng's group is said to fear that an execution will make Jiang a martyr and perhaps create a focus for a leftist back-lash. But execution is seen by many as the only logical penalty for the woman who has been officially branded as the "most fanatical persecutor in the 20th century."
The sentence given Jiang is expected to set the tone for at least 60 more trials, involving hundreds and perhaps thousands of imprisoned leftists, which will begin shortly after the current trial is wrapped up. Deng and his folllowers must be especially careful that the verdict is in line with policies for the whole country.
Nearly half China's 38 million Communist Party members were recruited during the Cultural Revolution and carry vague "leftist" labels. the government can ill afford to frighten them or rouse their open opposition to the faction now in power.
Jiang faces a number of charges punishable by death, including the alleged framing and persecution of top state leaders, torture and conspiracy to overthrow the "proletarian dictatorship." She was joined in the six-week trial by the three other members of the so-called "Gang of Four" and six members of the "clique" said to be loyal to the late defense minister, Lin Biao.