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Faced with protests, Peking finds limits to its political control

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Others say it is too early to assess such things, since the picture is more complicated. Many younger workers are sympathetic with the students, while older workers are more concerned with social stability and preserving their ``iron rice bowl'' - the Chinese expression for lifelong job and income security.

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More broadly, people from many walks of life are crediting the students for bringing a postponement of price reforms that were expected to raise prices of food and textiles by as much as 30 to 40 percent this year.

For its part, the government has been attempting to define the issues and shape public opinion in the official press. There has been an abundance of testimonials from workers, bus drivers, factory managers, teachers, and students offering approved opinions on the protests and advising the students to act responsibly and not be troublemakers.

The tone of editorials and commentaries in the official press grew harsher last week as the protests continued.

A day before the incidents in Tian An Men Square, the Peking Daily made a bizarre assertion that agents of the Nationalist government in Taiwan had been told to foment rebellion among the students. In a more serious accusation, it said that reporting by a foreign radio station had ``ulterior motives.'' This was almost certainly a reference to the Voice of America, a source of timely news popular among students and intellectuals.

A New Year's editorial in the People's Daily attacked ``bourgeois liberalization,'' using language that had not been seen in the reform-oriented newspaper for some years.

``The democracy the Chinese people need today can only be the socialist democracy known as people's democracy, rather than the individualist democracy of the bourgeoisie,'' the People's Daily said.

``We must never forget to struggle against a handful of people who are hostile to and are sabotaging China's socialist system,'' the newspaper said. It added that the class struggle will still ``exist for a long period to come on a certain scale.''

Since such editorials must be cleared at a high level in the party leadership, they may be more representative of the views of senior party leaders than the moderate approach taken last week by Vice-Minister of Education He Dongchang.

Mr. He avoided using highly charged ideological language at a press conference last week.

He, who is also head of a government task force to investigate the student protests, said that the students' excesses were understandable and that they needed counsel and a better ideological education.

The Peking Daily, a newspaper under the control of the city's Communist Party Committee, has carried some of the toughest comments.

In a New Year's Day greetings, Peking Mayor Chen Xitong spoke of keeping alert against ``antisocialist elements'' and ``class enemies'' - language reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution years (1966-76).

Comments from senior party leaders such as Hu Qiaomu and Wang Zhen have been in a similar vein.