This country is on the threshold of high-level leadership changes designed to secure the continuity of the economic modernization policy identified with Deputy Premier Deng Xiaoping, his close associates, and followers.
The most important components of the changes, notably Mr. Deng's resignation as deputy premier and the replacement of Hua Guofeng as prime minister by Zhao Ziyang, have been known for months.
But there still remain what diplomatic observers refer to as "a number of loose ends" to be tied up. The National People's Congress, China's legislature, which is to ratify the changes, appears to have been delayed, possibly until early September.
What is known so far is as follows:
* Mr. Deng and at least four other deputy premiers will resign their government posts, while retaining their Politburo positions in the Communist Party.
* Mr. Hua will step down as prime minister but remain as chairman of the party and of the military commission that controls the armed forces.
* A new executive team, headed by Mr. Zhao and with Wan Li as first deputy premier, will start functioning openly after having been in a de facto position for several months.
* Complementing Messrs. Zhao and Wan at the State Council (Cabinet) is Hu Yaobang, general secretary of the party, who has the mammoth task of shaking deadwood out of the encrusted layers of the party bureaucracy at headquarters and in the provinces.
These three leaders -- Messrs. Zhao, Wan, and Hu -- all in their early mid-60 s, will bear the main burden of day to day-to-day government and party work, while Mr.Deng and his older friends will keep a watchful eye on their doings from their privilege positions at the top of the party hierarchy.
What is not known, and is therefore the subject of endless rumor and speculation, is the identity of any other government or party leaders who may be stepping down. Nor is it known who the replacements for the various positions being vacated will be. The four deputy premiers who are resigning along with Mr. Deng are Li Xiannian, Chen Yun, Xu Xiangqian and Wang Zhen, according to a statement Mr. Li made to Harrison Salisbury of the New York Times.
All are in their middle to late 70s, all have seats on the Politburo, which they will keep. Not mentioned by Mr. Li but almost certain to resign likewise is Deputy Premier Chen Yonggui, an illiterate peasant who led the much-extolled Dazhai agricultural commune during the Cultural Revolution and was then catapulted into the Politburo and a high government post.
Recent newspaper articles charge that Dazhai production figures were consistently falsified and that in reality Dazhai required such huge state funds that it was a net drain on the economy.
Also under attack is the other great symbol of economic achievement during the Cultural Revolution -- the oil fields of Daqing, which account for half of China's total oil production. Oil production at Daqing has been decreasing recently, and there is criticism that the petroleum industry as a whole has been careless in the use of state funds and indifferent regarding safety procedures.
This latter charge has been highlighted by the recent disclosure of an oil disaster in the Pohai Gulf last November in which 72 persons perished. The criticism directly touches the minister of the petroleum industry, Song Zhenming.
Indirectly, a couple of deputy premiers formerly associated with Daqing could be involved: Kang Shien and Yu Qiuli. Mr. Yu was recently shifted from chairmanship of the State Planning Commission to the newly created, less prestigious State Energy Commission.
The attacks on Dazhai and Daqing must be seen in conjunction with the accelerating campaign to demythologize Mao Tse-tung. Mao, founder of the Republic, is accused of responsibility not only for the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, but also the "great leap forward" of the late '50s, which ended the promising beginnings of China's first economic modernization program.
It will probably be difficult for Mr. Deng and his friends to make a clean sweep of all the obstructive elements they have encountered during the course of their present modernization drive, one that in many respects carries on where the first one failed more than two decades ago.
But it is essential for them to convince party and government bureaucrats that this time, the modernization program is here to stay, even after Mr. Deng himself retires or passes from the scene.