A disgruntled cabdriver, docked of her bonus after a dispute with her boss, drove her car at high speed into a crowd of Chinese tourists in Tienanmen Square Jan. 10, killing several persons, according to informed Peking sources.

The reported death toll varies from three to 10, with as many as a dozen others said to be seriously injured, including the driver, who finally smashed into the marble bridge leading to the Forbidden City.

Such acts have been rare since the open warfare of the Cultural Revolution ended a decade ago. Although domestic violence is not uncommon, public outbursts are considered unusual.

In the last 18 months, however, sporadic episodes reportedly have caused hundreds of deaths and maimings. There have been bombings in the Peking train station and on a Fujian bus, a short-lived uprising in southern China and communal fighting in the northwest.

While these incidents are few and isolated, foreign observers regard them as symptoms of a larger, more pervasive social frustration caused by the clash of rising expectations with economic scarcity and by the sense of individual helplessness in an autocratic political system.

Communist leaders who once inspired the nation to revolt now acknowledge this slow social boil and take precautions to contain it. After ecstatic youths paraded through Peking to celebrate China's sports victories over foreign teams recently, the party quickly banned such spontaneous demonstrations.

Although many middle-aged and elderly Chinese are content in the quieter, less radical China of Deng Xiaoping, the society still crackles with resentment and cynicism from two groups that consider themselves the newly disenfranchised.

First are the hundreds of thousands of demobilized soldiers who had cast their fortunes with what was once a secure and prestigious job only to be sent back to their impoverished rural homes because of hefty military budget cuts.

Perhaps more alienated is the so-called lost generation--millions of people now in their twenties and thirties who sacrificed their educations and abandoned career paths to participate in a Cultural Revolution that today is known as China's blackest nightmare.

The Peking cabdriver who mowed down innocent bystanders on Tienanmen Square falls into the latter category of victims of history. Said to be in her early twenties, she worked in the lowly service sector like many Cultural Revolution refugees.

According to Chinese sources, she had been told on that Sunday morning that she would lose the next two months' bonuses because of an argument with her boss over wages. Bonuses can nearly double a cabdriver's income.

Angered, she drove her 1940-vintage taxi to historic Tienanmen Square, where thousands of tourists and strollers spend their day off visiting the Forbidden City, the Martyr's Memorial, museums and Mao Tse-tung's mausoleum.

Passing Mao's resting place, she picked up speed and turned into the crowd, knocking down a photographer's stand and dozens of people until she slammed the vehicle into the Golden Water Bridge outside the Forbidden City, according to Chinese sources.

The woman, who was not identified publicly, reportedly was hospitalized with head injuries.

Hospital workers who labored overtime that Sunday morning to tend to the injured were shocked that the woman would turn her anger against innocent people.

One attendant joked, "She should have gone straight to the local party branch and aimed the car at the bureaucrats who wouldn't give her the bonus. What did these people have to do with this?"

As usual in police matters, officials refused to comment. Local police said they had no knowledge of the incident. The Foreign Ministry, which handles questions of foreign reporters, would say only that the matter was under investigation.

Fifteen months ago, another outburst struck Peking not far from Tienanmen Square. A demobilized soldier from the countryside who had been denied permission to live in the same city as his girlfriend set off a huge bomb at the main railway station of the Chinese capital.

Eighty-one bystanders were hospitalized and nine persons died, including the young bomber, who reportedly had dressed for the occasion in his old Army uniform.

In a coastal city in Fujian Province, a crowded bus exploded last June, killing 50 passengers and injuring 150, according to Zheng Ming magazine, a China-watching journal based in Hong Kong. The writer, who claims to have been an eyewitness, said that local authorities later discovered that one of the bus riders had planted a bomb because he was depressed over marital or job problems.

Zheng Ming also reported that more than 3,000 former soldiers, calling themselves the Disillusioned Brigade because they were unable to get jobs after demobilization, staged a violent uprising in a small southern Chinese town last July, all but taking it over for three days before they were repulsed.

In China's sensitive northwest region that borders the Soviet Union, communal fighting and demands by ethnic groups for greater self-rule have shaken social stability in Xinjiang Province and prompted top party leadership changes.

Ethnic friction has exploded into violent clashes during the last two years, pitting Chinese against the largest minority group, the Uighurs, according to Chinese sources.

The most recent incident took place last June, when 200 Uighurs tried to storm a Chinese Army base near the city of Kashi, 60 miles from the Soviet border, according to a Xinjiang source. The Uighurs were repulsed and their leaders arrested after intense fighting, the source said.