Spring has come with a rush to Peking. One day the trees were bare-limbed. The next, the young willows that line many of this coty's streets sprouted a delicate green.
then, all of a sudden, forsythia and cherry blossoms, flowers that have to be searched for carefully in this dry and dusty city, were in full bloom.
Now comes that famous yellow wind -- the storms that swirl in from the Gobi every spring, filing even tightly sealed living rooms with fine layers of dust.
Politically, after the excitement of the fifth plenum, the country is in a quiet interlude, awaiting the National People's Congress meeting in August. The 12th party congress will meet in December or early next year.
(fifth plenum is shorthand for the fifth plenary meeting of the Chinese Communist Party's 11th central committee. In late February, the committee approved the rehabilitation of former Chief of State Liu Shaochi, sacked four Politburo members, and established an 11-man party secretariat with several new faces.)
Zhao Ziyang and Hu Yaobang have emerged as the leading personalities in the government and party after Deputy Premier Deng Xiaoping, who remains the most powerful figure in China's collective leadership. Mr. Zhao and Mr. Hu recently were appointed to share the post of deputy premier.
Prime Minister Hua Guofeng serenely continues preparations for a state visit to Japan May 21 amid increasingly open speculation that he may not remain premier much longer.
Almost offhandedly, Mr. Deng used an interview with a group of Italian journalists to disclose that Mr. Zhao was "in harge of the day-to-day work of the state council" (the Cabinet).
There has been endless discussion about the real meaning of the Chinese words translated respectively as "in charge of" and "day-to-day business."
There seems little question that the Mr. Zhao, a down- to-earth personality who gained a reputation as a successful innovator in Sichuan (Szechwan) and Guangdong (Kwangtung) provinces, is running the government with party elders like Mr. Deng looking over his shoulder.
Delicate-boned Hu Yaobang, a diminutive figure with a warm and enthusiastic manner, is making his mark as general secretary of the party -- a post revived for him by the fifth plenum.
Mr. Hu made his first major speech in this new position to a congress of scientists in late March. He followed up with a well-publicized nine-day meeting with Enrico Berlinguer, general secretary of the Italian Communist Party.
This is an important event. The leader of Western Europe's largest communist party, Mr. Berlinguer arrived in Peking April 14, healing a rupture that goes back to the early 1960s, when the Chinese accused the Italians of "revisionism."
For Mr. Berlinguer, the visit demonstrates anew his independence of Moscow at a time when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has made it politically essential for him to do so. For the Chinese, the visit could open the way to links with Eurocommunism. The Chinese, who now following a domestic line that might earlier have been branded revisionist, no longer accuse Moscow of this heresy.
Rather, they stress the independence of each communist party and oppose only the Soviet Union's "hegemonism" and "expansionism."
"The Chinese Communist Party is willing to establish, restore and develop relations with all working-class parties hat uphold independence and a correct position," Mr. Hu told Italian journalist accompanying Mr. Berlinguer. "But we firmly oppose those parties that flaunt the banner of the 'communist party' but in effect bully other parties, interfere with other countries' internal affairs, and even invade and occupy other countries' territory by force."
Sino-American relations continue to be close, although Mr. Deng has frequently expressed disappointment over the lack of a coordinated Western responce to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He is also unhappy over American-Iranian relations. He believes that keeping Iran out of Soviet clutches should take priority over intemperate efforts to free the hostages at the American Embassy in Tehran.
Meanwhile a steady procession of American and other visitors passes daily through the splendors of the forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace. Is there a dust storm? No matter. They wind their scarves over mouth and nose and sally forth across the vast spaces of Tien An Men Square.
This is also the season for school outings. Parks and museums are full of bright-eyed youngsters filing past exhibits of the late Premier Chou En-lai or enjoying a morning snack. Despite increasingly stringent family planning, China's population still grows at a rate of 1.17 percent a year, the People's Daily reminded its readers April 19. The average increase since 1949 has been 14,310,000 a year, which means that nearly half of China's citizen are less than 30 years old. They all need to be fed, clothed, housed, educated, and employed.
But as the first spring of the 1980s rushes breakneck into high summer, the most perplexing task facing China's leaders is how to balance severely limited resources against almost frighteningly overwhelming needs.
To succeed, they must have stability and competence -- hence the carefully managed transition to able, younger leaders. They need a favorable international environment -- hence the outreach to the US and the repairing of relations with many others, including the Italian Communists. The road ahead is long. The whole world has a stake in the outcome.