Chinese Chairman Hu throws himself into his new role

In his public debut as chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, Hu Yaobang gave a two-hour pep talk that was received without noticeable enthusiasm by a select audience of 10,000. The occasion was the 60th anniversary of the party July 1; the place, the main auditorium of the cavernous Great Hall of the People.

The Communist Party has made many mistakes during its 60-year history, Mr. Hu said, and it faces a long and tortuous road ahead. But the important thing was "to be good at learning through practice once a mistake has been made, to wake up in good time and endeavor to correct it."

Mr. Hu's speech repeated in the main a long resolution just passed by the party's Central Committee, reviewing party history and the role of its greatest leader, Mao Tse- tung. He said that while Mao made grievous mistakes, his contributions far outweighed his errors.

But although his speech obviously had been looked over ahead of time by the Politburo, Mr. Hu has his own individual flavor, as, for instance, when he took up the subject of training a new generation of leaders.

It is no secret that many older cadres are reluctant to give up positions of prestige and influence that they have enjoyed for nearly a lifetime. With a smile, Mr. Hu cited three veterans, Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun, and Li Xiannian, all of whom have given up their government jobs as deputy premiers while retaining their party positions as vice-chairmen.

These veterans, Mr. Hu said, "have said more than once that although the old comrades may be pardoned for other mistakes, they would be committing an unforgivable historical error if they did not redouble their efforts to train younger successors."

Starting in a light, almost bantering tone, Mr. Hu threw himself almost bodily into the phrase "an unforgivable historical error," with index finger pointing high toward the ceiling. The audience, many of them old comrades themselves, responded with only lukewarm applause.

Conspicuous by his absence from the proceedings was octogenarian Marshal Ye Jianying, who is said to be one of the principal supporters of Mr. Hu's ousted predecessor as chairman, Hua Guofeng. Marshal Ye also has apparently refused to step down from his largely ceremonial role as chairman of the standing committee of the National People's Congress -- a role comparable to that of head of state.

What the diminutive Mr. Hu lacks in height and girth he makes up for in kinetic energy. He did not actually thump the table, but threw his body about so vigorously that he soon had to shed his light-gray Mao jacket and continue his speech in white shirtsleeves. Throughout the speech, applause was dutiful but perfunctory.The warmth that might have greeted a beloved veteran like Deng Yingchao, Chou En-lai's widow, was missing.

AS a chairman, Mr. Hu still seems to be on trial, although as a lifelong communist who made the Long March and who hails from Mao's native province, Hunan, Mr. Hu has of least adequate revolutionary credentials. Although Mr. Hu is 67, with so many septuagenarians and octogenarians looking over his shoulder, he will have a tough row to hoe.

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