Two Peking University students have been sentenced by a Chinese court to seven years in prison for "counterrevolutionary agitation," Chinese sources said today.
Chinese who knew the two students identified them as Zhang Xiaohui and Li Caian, undergraduate students in history and economics. They said the two illegally had drawn up a 7,000-character manifesto earlier this year that called for, among other things, the overthrow of the country's current Communist Party leaders.
Zhang and Li, the sources said, wanted to return China to "true Marxism." They felt China's current leaders were "undemocratic" and "not true Marxists."
Party leaders are currently encouraging some limited forms of academic debate as part of what is being called a new "Hundred Flowers" movement. But the harsh prison sentence handed down to the two students seemed to show where the limits of dissent lie.
In 1956, a campaign associated with Mao Tse-tung was begun to spur an intellectual debate and freer criticism under the slogan, "Let a hundred flowers bloom together; let the hundred schools of thought contend." The campaign released a torrent of dissatisfaction on the part of intellectuals directed against the Communist Party, and the following year it was harshly suppressed in an "antirightist" campaign that sent thousands of people to labor camps.
Zhang is reported to have headed a group called the "Young Marxist League." University students said the group numbered about 20 persons. They said most students support the economic changes initiated by China's Communist Party leaders. Few students saw the manifesto prepared by Zhang and Li, sources said.
The two students apparently had nothing to do with student demonstrations that erupted last September. Those demonstrations began in protest against an alleged revival of militarism in Japan and what was described as a Japanese "economic invasion of China." Some of the student demonstrators subsequently added on other issues, including criticism of the favoritism shown to sons and daughters of high-ranking officials. There were also a few calls, expressed through wall posters, for freedom and democracy.
Communist Party authorities showed great concern over the student demonstrations and launched a campaign to open talks with the students to defuse the protests. Students were warned not to engage in further disruptive activities.
Zhang and Li were reported to have been arrested in early April. One source said two other students were arrested but are still awaiting sentences.
Reports that two students had been arrested first surfaced in late May. A Peking University spokesman confirmed the arrests but gave no details. In early June, the Far Eastern Economic Review, a Hong Kong-based magazine, identified the students as Zhang and Li and said they were charged with trying to form an illegal political organization at the university.