An article on the present state of Soviet art and literature has suddenly become a hot item here on the newsstands -- and among the city's foreign embassies and foreign news bureaus.
"Sold out," snapped a woman clerk at the busy post office in front of the main Peking cable office.
The article, which appeared in a thick 258-page literary magazine, provides a dispassionate analysis of the Brezhnev line in literature and the arts.
Not surprisingly, it has caught the attention of those who watch the bitter Sino-Soviet confrontation.
This article was accompanied by a report on a national conference on modern Soviet literature. The report stated that a majority of participants recognized Soviet scientific progress and improved living standards. Observers here see this as evidence that the Chinese leadership looks beyond current Sino-Soviet enmity to a less openly hostile relationship between Moscow and Peking.
Others see the articles as mainly reflecting the freer atmosphere within Chinese intellectual circles following the straitjacket era of the Cultural Revolution and the rule of the so-called radical leftist "gang of four" headed by Mao Tse-tung's widow Jiang Qing (Chiang Ching).
"Democracy" wall may be no more, but a host of academic and other journals has sprung up that intensely discuss and reevaluate subjects from Confucius to Chinese cooking. Why not Soviet literature as well?
The literary magazine, carrying these latest articles, is published by the Heilongjiang Institute of Literature and Arts. This issue is devoted to modern Soviet literature.
Many of its articles were prepared for a conference on modern Soviet literature held in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang, last September.
An article by Cheng Zhengmin contrasts the Leonid Brezhnev period with that of Nikita Khrushchev. He characterizes the Khrushchev period as one of transition from the old to the new; of agitation, uncertainty, and constant search, full of contradictions and struggle. Khrushchev himself was inconsistent, at times allowing writers great freedom, at others severely restricting them.
Mr. Brezhnev, Mr. Cheng says, absorbed the lessons of the Khrushchev period and undertook a more consistent and stable policy toward literature and the arts. The political situation was stabilized, production developed, the people's livelihood clearly improved.
The Brezhnev line was to oppose extremes, curbing both the liberalism of such publications as Novy Mir (New World) and the reactionism of others, like Oktyabr (October). It combined recognition that literary genius was the nation's treasure with strict demands on writers. Contradictions did not come to the surface as in the Khrushchev period. Nevertheless, they existed.
One contradiction was that many writers did not like to take up themes that the authorities proposed. Most writers took up the patriotic war or moral themes, whereas the authorities wanted novels on production in industry and agriculture, the armed forces, and international subjects.
Another contradiction was that dissidents continued. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the most celebrated Soviet dissident, is mentioned in this regard. Another article in the magazine devoted to Mr. Solzhenitsyn is highly critical. It says he is anti-Chinese and disparages the 1917 October revolution.
Another problem was nationalism, both old-fashioned pan-Slavism and the idealization of their own past by various minorities. The article concludes the Brezhnev line has been successful to the extent that it accorded with the interests of the majority of the people. To the extent it failed, contradictions arose.