BEIJING — IN a sign of bitter conflict within the military, China's leaders have detained an Army writer and banned his latest book for exposing Red Army atrocities and tactical blunders by Mao Zedong during the civil war in the 1940s. The Communist Party's ruling Politburo authorized the detention last month of Lt. Col. Zhang Zhenglong, People's Liberation Army (PLA) writer, and outlawed his book, ``White Snow, Red Blood,'' from bookstore shelves, according to Chinese military and party sources.
Published by the official PLA press in August 1989 as part of a series on the 1946-49 civil war, the 93,000 copies of the first edition quickly sold out, said an official at the PLA Publishing House. Calling the book a ``very sensitive issue'' the official confirmed that Zhang and the book's editor, Ma Chengyi, had been detained.
The book is a striking symbol of opposition to hard-line Communist Party leaders and their supporters among the top brass, who are attempting to rein in the Army with Maoist indoctrination.
A painstakingly documented history based on interviews with more than 100 Red Army veterans, ``White Snow'' is the first major attempt by a PLA writer to record objectively the communists' decisive 1948 campaign against Nationalist forces for control of northeastern China.
In the book, Colonel Zhang defies decades-old political taboos to reveal a Red Army that is fractious, sometimes brutal and degenerate. He mourns the suffering of common Chinese rather than laud the communist guerrillas who ``liberated'' them. He depicts revolutionary battles as destructive and tragic, unlike the glorious victories recorded in orthodox party histories.
``White Snow'' shocked Chinese leaders, sources say, by exposing for the first time in China the massive civilian death toll resulting from the Red Army's five-month siege in 1948 of Changchun, a major city in Manchuria.
Some 330,000 civilians died of starvation, suicide, and other causes when encircling Red Army troops kept them trapped inside the city with Nationalist forces, the 618-page book recounts.
The book further angered the party and military establishment by highlighting Mao's wartime mistakes while extolling two of the nation's most vilified men: Nationalist Gen. Chiang Kai-shek and Red Army commander Lin Biao. Mr. Lin allegedly plotted to assassinate Mao in 1971.
The publication of such a stark challenge to official history by the PLA's own press suggests that the party has failed to stifle dissent among moderate officers - dissent that Army sources say has intensified since the crushing of the pro-democracy movement in Beijing on June 4, 1989.
``There is a general trend in China today for those who oppose the party to attack party traditions,'' says a senior PLA officer.
``Military officers can express dissatisfaction with the party leadership by promoting a figure [Lin] who has been so maligned,'' the officer says.
Moderate forces within the Army strongly resent a campaign spearheaded last year by Gen. Yang Shangkun and other conservatives to step up Marxist indoctrination and tighten party controls over the 3-million-strong PLA, military sources say.
For example, the PLA recently announced the establishment of special organs to promote ``psychological warfare'' against foreign and Chinese anticommunist subversives. It is also waging an Army-wide campaign to promote Mao's military doctrines.
The push for ideological conformity is part of a strategy by hard-liners to ensure that ``the party controls the gun,'' military sources say. Yet the indoctrination grates on many younger, better-educated PLA officers, who seek to foster a politically neutral, modern, and professional Army along Western lines.
``Since the suppression of the protests on June 4, Yang Shangkun and [his younger brother Gen.] Yang Baibing have wanted absolutely no freedom of thought within the military,'' says a Chinese source linked to the PLA.
``They want the officers and troops to be tools of the party, not independent, thinking men.''
At a meeting of the party's ruling Politburo last spring, leaders including Gen. Yang Shangkun and party chief Jiang Zemin criticized ``White Snow'' for ``denying the justice of a revolutionary war'' and ``seriously exposing the dark sides of the PLA,'' says a literary source with PLA contacts.
Furthermore, they accused the author of ``extolling Chiang Kai-skek'' while ``defending Lin and belittling Mao.'' After the meeting, the party ordered propaganda organs of the general staff, political department, logistics department, and China's seven regional military commands to ban the book, the source says.
``White Snow, Red Blood'' is controversial for suggesting that Communists and Nationalists must share responsibility for the civil war in which so many Chinese lost their lives.
Turning official histories upside down, the author portrays some Nationalist commanders as loyal, brave, and heroic, while revealing some Communist generals as foul-mouthed womanizers or drunks. Nationalist troops are described in parts as disciplined and imposing, unlike Red Army soldiers, who defect by the thousands and anger citizens by ``eating up all the food like locusts.''
The author also strives for balance in assessing Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek.
``It is unjust to caricature Chiang Kai-shek, a man who shaped modern history, as disreputable in one stroke of the brush,'' Zhang writes. Instead, China should recognize Chiang's contributions, he argues.
The favorable portrayal of Lin, especially in contrast to Mao, is the most politically sensitive aspect of the book, as the author acknowledges in the preface when he says his ``main difficulty is a man named Lin Biao.''
Lin, a brilliant strategist and China's top revolutionary general, was anointed as Mao's successor in 1966. But a dispute with Mao led to Lin's mysterious death and a widespread purge of his supporters in 1971.
Despite limited official recognition of Lin's military achievements, many of China's veteran leaders refuse to lift Lin's stigma as a traitor, military sources say. ``They may rehabilitate others, but never Lin Biao,'' says the senior PLA officer.
Commanding the Army for Mao during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, Lin persecuted many military leaders. He imprisoned Yang and had Gen. He Long, an associate of paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, killed.
China's leaders believe rehabilitating Lin could enable his disgraced allies from the revolutionary Fourth Field Army to regain influence, sources say. The PLA hierarchy today is dominated by men from Mr. Deng's Second Field Army.
The fate of the author is uncertain. One source says he was recently freed from detention.