BEIJING, MAY 6 -- When university students lifted Wuer Kaixi onto their shoulders and charged into a line of policemen during a demonstration two days ago, it was one of the high points in China's student movement for democracy that has shaken the government and possibly transformed Chinese politics. The police pulled Wuer down and ripped the school flag he was holding to the ground, but his action allowed hundreds of followers to break through the police lines. A mile away, a less flamboyant student leader, Wang Dan, led another column of students. Wang, using a megaphone, marshaled his troops with calm authority. Wuer, 21, and Wang, 20, have been at the forefront of China's student democracy movement since its inception three weeks ago following the death of Hu Yaobang, a Communist Party leader ousted from his post in 1987 by conservatives who thought he was too liberal. Although their styles differ, the two students share an ability to organize, a dedication to democratic ideals and the courage -- which in China is often seen as recklessness -- to speak up for their beliefs. According to Wuer, the ruling Communist Party Politburo has singled out these two students for special condemnation, accusing them of plotting to overthrow the government. "I'm honored to be one of the two," Wuer said in a recent interview. Chinese students have a tradition of standing up for their beliefs that goes back at least as far as the May 4 Movement of 1919, when Beijing students led protests against a government they regarded as corrupt and weak in the face of foreign aggression. It was the first time China's intellectuals mobilized in the name of democracy and modernization. Many of today's students have said they derive confidence from that tradition and from the fact that they are an elite. Of the country's high school graduates, no more than 5 percent gain admission to universities. Both Wang and Wuer said they feel a responsibility to speak out against what they see as wrongs in the government, and with other protesters have been demanding freedom of the press and speech, the right to assembly, an end to corruption in the party and government, and a dialogue with China's top leaders. But they bring different approaches to their roles as leaders of the movement, which has staged massive demonstrations in Beijing and won so much public support that the leadership was forced to back down from a threat to crack down on the protesters. Wuer, a student of educational administration at Beijing's Normal University, said he wants to join the Communist Party some day, believing the party can be reformed. Wang, a history student at prestigious Beijing University, said he prefers not to join. While the scholarly Wang seems to avoid the limelight, Wuer relishes it. Wuer belongs to the Uygur ethnic minority group of China's remote western Xinjiang Autonomous Region, a link between China and the Middle East. He said that his background and friendships with foreigners have left him open to new ideas. A French journalist asked Wuer what made the recent student demonstrations more successful than the abortive student demonstrations of 1986-87. "Me," Wuer is said to have replied, perhaps only half jokingly. Wearing a fashionable denim jacket, Wuer enjoys the kind of popularity on his campus that would normally be accorded to a pop music star. He knows how to delegate authority to others, saving his energy for leadership tasks, such as making speeches and negotiating with policemen blocking his followers. His high profile won him the chairmanship of a newly formed student organization called the Beijing Universities United Association, which the government has declared illegal. One of Wuer's toughest moments came on April 29, when senior government officials met with a group of handpicked students to hold talks that had been demanded by the protesters. Wuer said officials pressured him to approve the meeting, but he refused and denounced the event as a farce because many of the students chosen to participate did not belong to the movement. Wuer is at ease with foreign reporters, and he enjoys the effect he has on other people. "I made a speech with so much emotion that it moved many girls to tears," he said a few days ago, referring to a period of tension following threats by the government to suppress the movement. At the time, some people thought Wuer would be arrested. "We heard that a division of troops armed with electric truncheons, tear gas and rubber bullets were mobilized and that the government had a plan to bring universities under military control," he said. "We were prepared for violence. I said that I would march at the very front, ready to be hit by a rubber bullet. I prepared my last testament before the march." Wuer said that his father, a writer, translator and Communist Party member, visited him to express his concern. "He said he didn't want to visit me in prison in the years to come, although he didn't think I was wrong to be doing what I was doing," said Wuer. Wuer does not hesitate to criticize top leaders by name, which is still considered a dangerous act in Beijing. Asked recently about threats from Deng Xiaoping, China's 84-year-old senior leader, to crack down on the students, Wuer said, "I think he's muddle-headed with age." But he said that a demonstration on April 27, in which more than 150,000 students poured into the streets and were supported by hundreds of thousands of citizens, apparently caused Deng to reflect. The government did not carry out the threatened crackdown. "Several million of the people of Beijing poured cold water over his head and made him more clear-headed," Wuer said. "Some high-ranking officials who used to support Deng have now become more reasonable . . . ," he said. "We welcome this change and wish it would become greater." Wang is more low-key than Wuer, but his commitment is no less strong. Wang looks like a typical Chinese university student, with glasses, black cloth shoes and a slender build. He said he never sought leadership but was urged to assume a leading role in the student movement by classmates. "As an intellectual, you have to stand up," he said. "I feel it's my responsibility as a university student to speak out." Wang did not emerge suddenly as a leader. For months, he organized forums for the free discussion of democratic ideas, which the students call "democracy salons." When the protest movement began, he was seen by many as a natural leader. "This is one way to help China develop," he said. "I think everyone should do something for his country." Wang said that his parents, one of whom is an associate professor of geology and the other a researcher at the Museum of History, are concerned about the dangers involved in his activities but have not urged him to stop. In Wang's view, the students have so far accomplished two important goals: They have created an independent student organization and have won unprecedented public support. But he said these are only short-range goals. "Long-range goals have yet to be realized," he said in an interview in a room at Beijing University with unpainted cement walls, six beds and a table covered with sheets of white paper to be used for writing political posters. He stressed that the apparent conciliatory attitude recently adopted by the government does not signal the end of the movement. Wang, his voice hoarse from exhorting student demonstrators, said the students now must strengthen their newly formed organization, hold elections and publish an independent newspaper. Wang said he does not feel it is his responsibility to join the Communist Party. "The Communist Party hasn't lived up to its ideals, especially considering the extent of corruption within the party," he said.