Peking — "I'm sorry," a Chinese acquaintance said, "but I've been told I cannot see you any more by myself. There must always be someone else from my unit present."
Barriers between Chinese and foreigners that seemed to be coming down are being put back in place. Chinese have been warned to be circumspect in their dealings with foreigners and especially not to provide them with sensitive information. The move seems part of a wider effort by the Communisty Party leadership to impose a greater degree of conformity on young people, on writers, artists, teachers, and intellectuals in general.
The effort is said to have the blessing of party Vice-Chairman Deng xiaoping, who is China's de facto top leader, although Hua Guofeng remains chairman of the party in name and made one of his rare appearances as such at an eve-of-May Day celebration in the Great Hall of the People here.
Journalists, diplomats, and other observers in China, who have long experience with the zigs and zags of official policy, are battening down their hatches. Said one observer with wide Chinese contacts, "I am afraid things are going to get worse before they get better."
There has been a crackdown on surviving members of activist groups demanding greater democracy that flourished during the period of the "democracy wall" in 1978 and 1979. A slashing criticism of writer Bai Hua in the Liberation Army daily will almost certainly make film dreictors and drama producers more cautious about taking up difficult subjects.
Bai Hua, an Army writer, recently completed a film entitled "Bitter Love," which has not been released for public viewing. It embodies some of the strongest criticism seen or heard here about the so-called Cultural Revolution unleashed by Mao Tse-tung. Bai Hua's critic, though careful to call him "comrade," said the film made out China under communist rule to be worse than during the Kuomintang period that preceded it.
At the same time, establishment intellectuals maintain there is no intention to turn the clock back to the excesses of the "antirightist campaign" of 1957-58 , still less to the sheer terror and anarchy of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76 ) during which the "gang of four," headed by Mao's widow, Jian Qing, held sway.
The official line, repeated in journal after journal, still is tht leftism has been the principal error of the past 20 years, that many veteran cadres remain under leftist influence. By leftism is meant the emphasizing of empty words over solid deeds, the headlong adventurism represented by such disastrous policies as the Great Lap Forward of the late 1950s or the slogan, "It's good to rebel," of the early Cultural Revolution.
But now rightism is held to be a danger, too. The People's Daily defined rightism (April 26) in part as "abandoning Marxism, Leninism, and Mao-Tse-tung thought, and attempting to deny socialism, the people's democratic dictatorship, and the leadership of the [Communist] party."
These four items -- Marxism-Leninism-Mao thought, socialism, the people's democratic dictatorship, and party leadership -- are labeled the four principles and are given as much prominence as the four modernizations, which are China's economic goals for the rest of the century.
The Deng leadership's economic goals, which emphasize material incentives and allow much greater flexibility than the rigid central control and planning of past years, require initiative and a willingness to assume responsibility for decisions on the part of cadres, most of whom want only to follow orders from above.
Newspapers admit many of these cadres, still imbued by the "leftism" of the past, consider the new line "following the capitalist road." Some of the strongest opposition to the Deng reforms seems to be coming from the armed services, the most conservative element in the country. It may be partly to deflect these "leftist" critics of his economic program, which enjoys wide support among the population as a whole, that the Dengist leadership has decided to insist on greater conformity in the cultural and ideological fields.
Can Mr. Deng have it both ways: initiative and a degree of risk-taking in the economic field, discipline and conformity in culture and ideology? For the moment, the answer may be yes. In the long run, the contradictions inherent in this riding of two horses could become unmanageable.