Late summer in China has been a time that recalls the rise and fall of leaders. In Peking two once-powerful heads of state, now demoted "commoners," nearly crossed paths. One was a former president welcomed in honors. The other was Mao's heir to power -- now as much in disfavor as his late revolutionary mentor.
On one path there was former US President Jimmy Carter. In Peking he got the red-carpet treatment in one of his very few forays into the political limelight since Ronald Reagan turned him out of office in November 1980.
A meeting with China's Premier Zhao Ziyang and Communist Party Vice-Chairman Deng Xiaoping showed how much China values the "friend of China" who helped negotiate diplomatic relations between the United States and China in 1978. It also symbolized the lingering concern among China's leaders that President Reagan may "turn back the clock" by increasing support for Taiwan.
On another path there was former Communist Party Chairman and Premier Hua Guofeng. In Peking he got the chance to meet Japan's former foreign minister, Masayoshi Ito, who tanked him for attending the funeral last year of Japanese Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira.
It was Mr. Hua's first public appearance since June when, after already losing the premiership, he lost the job of party chairman and became the last six Vice-chairmem. Powerful Vice-Chairman Deng Xiaoping masterminded the fall of Mr. Hua, the handpicked successor to the late Chairman Mao Tse-tung.
Both Mr. Carter and Mr. Hua rose to power in 1976. Both began their final fall in 1979.
If leaders rise and fall, so do pet projects and ideas.
Remember those grandiose, monument-like Soviet-style buildings erected with so much fanfare around Peking-s Tian An Men Square?
Nowdays they, too, are coming in for criticism.
China's official Guangming newspaper recently declared these buildings near the mausoleum of the late Chairman Mao Tse-tung are monotonous and neglect human needs.
And remember the gigantic network of underground air-raid shelters once so proudly showed off to visitors in Peking?
The paper declared that the shelters, constructed in the 1970s to protect against Soviet nuclear attack, should be embellished by converting them into cinemas and other kinds of theaters.
All this should be done as part of a project to make the Tian An Men Square more enjoyable for visitors, according to Guangming. with lawns and flowers, said the newspaper.
But even newspapers themselves were not immune from calls for change.
Take the People's Daily. This sometimes long-winded and serious-toned authoritive mouthpiece of China's Communist Party went so far as to criticize itself and call for change.
A recent article covering one-third of the paper's front page said its articles were too long. It included a reader's letter declaring, "The longer the articles, the fewer the people who read them."
An editorial said there was a wide gap between what the paper printed and waht readers wanted. It promised to try to "make things shorter." One problem, it said, was that some editors and reporters like longer articles.
On top of such self-criticism came a gentle piece of comment from a country cousin "come in from the cold."
China's military equipment is "rather backward" and life in general in China "rather hard," said a defector who flew his US designed F-5F jet fighter to China.
Major Huang's defection gave the Chinese military an unusual chance to dissect and analyze the workings of an Americna military jet more advanced than anything in China's Air Force.Ironically this indirect form of American military aid by way of Taiwan came at a time when the Reagan administration seems undecided over what kind of military equipment to sell China and how much additional weaponry to provide Taiwan.
As for Major Huang, he declared he did not know how he would spend the $370, 000 reward he received for delivering his reconnaissance and training jet to Peking.
But China's trade union newspaper quoted him as saying generously that he wanted to donate the money to the Chinese government because "the motherland has already given me so much."