Creaking Chinese hierarchy to get top-level changes

Impending high-level changes in the Chinese Communist Party and government seem aimed at rejuvenating the leadership as well as eliminating First Deputy Premier Deng Xiaoping's remaining opponents. Whether these changes will reach as high as Hua Guofeng, who is both party chairman and prime minister, remains to be seen.

Most Western observers here expect Mr. Hua to stay on in both posts, at least for several months.

Eventually, however, he is expected to give up the premiership to concentrate on his party position. The changes will signify the continuity of the current policy of economicm modernization identified with Mr. Deng and a start toward tackling the knotty problem of the succession.

The majority of China's top leadership, with the notable exception of Mr. Hua , are in their 70s or 80s, and their concern must be to ensure an orderly and progressive transition to the post-revolutionary generation.

Three important provincial leaders who have shown energy and administrative ability in their respective bailiwicks are expected to be brought to Peking as deputy premiers: Zhao Ziyang of Sichuan (Szechwan), Peng Chong of Shanghai, and Wan Li of Anhui.

Mr. Zhao, in his early 60s and already a member of the Politburo, is considered to be a decisive and gutsy administrator close to Mr. Deng. He would be the leading candidate to succeed Mr. Hua if and when the latter steps down from the premiership.

Hu Yaobang, also in his early 60s and also close to Mr. Deng, is expected to be promoted or may already have been elevated from chief of the party secretariat to the revived position of general secretary, a position once held by Mr. Deng.

Along with these changes may come the ouster from the Politburo of several figures who opposed Mr. Deng in the past. Mr. Deng himself has recently referred to "remnants of the 'gang of four'" and there have been several recent press references to such remnants.

The "gang of four," headed by Mao Tse-tung's widow Jiang Qing (Chiang Ching), was arrested one month after Mao's death in September 1976 and has been excoriated ever since as the chief perpetrators of the excesses of the so-called Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) during which Mr. Deng and practically the entire current leadership of China were purged, humiliated, and even imprisoned.

There is also the problem of rejuvenation. Marshal Ye Jianying, the titular chief of state as chairman of the standing committee of the National People's Congress, is in his 80s, as are Marshals Liu Bocheng and Nie Rongzhen.m

Several other Politburo members are in their late 70s. All are supporters of Mr. Deng, but there is a widespread feeling that the time has come to promote younger, more energetic men. Even if there are no immediate displacements of elderly leaders, change is bound to come later in the year when the 12th congress of the Communist Party is expected to be held.

The promotion of some younger leaders and the elimination of Mr. Deng's remainng opponents are, however, expected to be approved by a plenary session of the party's central committee, possibly meeting as early as next week and before the festivities associated with the spring festival, the lunar new year, which begins Feb. 16.

The plenary session is also expected to approve the final rehabilitation of former chief of state Liu Shaochi, who was disgraced and savagely humiliated at the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 and who subsequently died in prison.

But the formal rehabilitation of Mr. Liu inevitably implies a censuring of the person who most passionately opposed the Liu line -- now carried on by Mr. Deng -- of economic incentives. That person was none other than Mao Tse-Tung himself.

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