BEIJING -- For the first time in several months, supporters of change within China's ruling Communist Party appear to be regaining momentum in a power struggle with hard-line party elders, according to analysts and diplomats.

In a marked change in tone, articles in official newspapers in the past month have been devoting more space to the importance and achievements of economic change and much less to attacks on capitalist trends.

The change appears to reflect a move by reformist leaders to win back ground lost to orthodox Marxists following student demonstrations this past winter and the ouster of Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang, analysts said.

In January, following the demonstrations and Hu's ouster, hard-liners -- conservative party elders opposed to speeding up and broadening of economic changes -- spearheaded the campaign against "bourgeois liberalism," a phrase used to describe western democratic ideas. Since then, there has been renewed emphasis on political ideology, particularly in education.

The counteroffensive going on now in the media reflects the sharp divisions in the leadership as the behind-the-scenes jockeying for power and position intensifies preceding a crucial party congress expected to be held in October, analysts said.

At stake are key leadership appointments, including the premiership, the post of the party's permanent general secretary and memberships of the Politburo, Central Committee and Secretariat. In addition, the congress is likely to produce a major policy document. Many of the major decisions are expected to be made before the congress.

Chinese and foreign observers cautioned that the political situation is still too uncertain to tell whether the current momentum of the reformers can be sustained. Until the top leadership questions are decided, they said, it is unlikely that any major new policy initiatives will be taken, and some that were drawn up last year, such as price reform, have been put on hold.

"Each side is carefully watching the other side, trying to take advantage of the other's weaknesses," said one Chinese source recently. Top leader Deng Xiaoping, he said, appears to be using his power and influence as a checking force, shifting one way or the other when he deems fit.

For now, the momentum in rhetoric appears to be with the reformers.

"Their tone is much more on the offensive," said one European analyst.

Even the official Chinese press has commented on the change.

"Since one month ago, reform and opening to the outside world have once more become a major topic in the press," said the China News Service in a June 13 dispatch. The news service is a state-run news agency aimed primarily at overseas newspapers.

The news service said that at a recent meeting, the powerful party propaganda department told ideologues and journalists to change the tone of their political commentaries.

"Up to now, it has been necessary for propaganda to focus on opposing bourgeois liberalization," the dispatch said, paraphrasing the department's position. "In the future, we should put the same emphasis on positive education in the basic principles {of Chinese communism} and the policies of reform and opening to the outside world."

Since the antiwestern drive began in January, the reformers, led by premier and acting party leader Zhao Ziyang, have tried to limit it to the party and not allow it to affect the country's economic reforms.

But earlier this spring, the antiwestern drive threatened to spill over into the economic arena. Measures aimed at "invigorating state enterprises and developing the commodity economy" were described as "pursuing capitalism," the People's Daily said in a prominent editorial May 22.

Farmers, who have benefited from the dismantling of the commune system and the introduction of a more market-oriented system, also became fearful of changes in policy, in part, because of "some conservative local officials who tend to label the current policies 'capitalistic,' " said an article last month in Farmers' Daily.

As part of the reformers' counterattack, Zhao, in a major speech last month, hammered away at the importance of reform and attacked "rigid thinking" or "ossification," according to the official New China News Agency. In a clear criticism of the aging conservative leaders who are seeking to stay in power, he said bluntly: "Most leading cadres at all levels were too old several years ago . . . . The problem of too many elderly cadres has not been overcome fully even today."

He added: "Working behind a closed door in a greenhouse may be easier, but flowers cultivated in a greenhouse are, after all, more fragile and more vulnerable to storms.

"We cannot give up reforms, opening to the outside world and invigoration of the economy, and return to the closed working conditions of the past, just as one cannot go hungry because one once choked on food."

Since then, a flurry of articles has appeared, noting the rise in the standard of living as a result of the reforms and arguing that without further economic restructuring, socialism will lose its attraction.